Chapter 5: Power of the Atom
We now know how atoms, the building blocks of the whole universe and everything therein, animate-inanimate, form matter in an extraordinary way. As we have examined, these extremely minute particles have a perfect organisation within themselves. Yet, the miraculous aspect of the atom does not end there; the atom also houses tremendous energy.
While the power hidden in the atom serves humanity on one hand, it poses an extremely great danger for humanity on the other hand. So much so that by the misuse of this power, tens of thousands of people lost their lives in a very short time– a few seconds – at Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. In recent years, an accident that took place in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Russia caused the death or injury of a great number of people.
Before giving detailed information on the disasters the power of the atom caused in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl, let us take a short look at the nature of this power in the atom and how it is released.
Power Hidden in the Nucleus
In the chapter titled "The Formation Adventure of the Atom", we had said the force keeping the protons and neutrons together in the atomic nucleus is "the strong nuclear force". The enormous power of nuclear energy is revealed by the liberation of a tiny part of this force in the nucleus. The magnitude of this energy varies depending on the type of the element, because the number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus of each element is different. As the nucleus grows, the number of neutrons and protons and the magnitude of the force bonding them to each other increase. It is extremely difficult to release this force that is responsible for keeping protons and neutrons together in a large nucleus. As the particles grow more distant from each other, they, just like a taut bow, try to come together with greater force.
Before going into the details of this force, let us think it over. How can such an enormous force fit in such a small place? This is such a force that it has been discovered after years of research conducted by thousands of people. When it is not interfered with, it does not do any harm to anyone, yet, with the intervention of man, it may at any time become a force killing millions.
Two technical processes called "fission" and "fusion" release this extraordinary force in the nucleus of the atom, which may endanger the lives of millions of people. The reaction known as fission is a nuclear reaction in which an atomic nucleus splits into fragments, and the reaction called fusion is the bringing together of two nuclei by a great force. In either reaction, a tremendous amount of energy is released.
Fission is a nuclear reaction in which the atomic nucleus, which is held together by the strongest force in the universe, the "Strong Nuclear Force", splits into fragments. The main material used in fission experiments is "uranium" because the uranium atom is one of the heaviest. In other words, there are plenty of protons and neutrons in its nucleus.
In fission experiments, scientists shot a neutron at the uranium nucleus at great velocity. They faced a very interesting situation. After the neutron was absorbed by the uranium's nucleus, the uranium nucleus had become very unstable. The nucleus' being "unstable" means the formation of a difference between the numbers of protons and neutrons in the nucleus, resulting in an imbalance in its structure. Therefore, the nucleus starts splitting into fragments while emitting a certain amount of energy to eliminate this imbalance. The nucleus, under the impact of the energy released, starts ejecting the components it contains at great velocity.
Considering the results these experiments yielded, neutrons were accelerated and uranium was bombarded with neutrons in special environments called "reactors". However, uranium is bombarded with neutrons according to a very fine measure, not randomly, because any neutron bombarding the uranium atom has to hit the uranium immediately and at the desired point. That is why these experiments are conducted taking every probability into consideration. The amount of the uranium to be used, the amount of the neutrons used to bombard the uranium, and the duration and speed at which the neutrons will bombard the uranium should all be very precisely calculated.
After all these calculations are made and the appropriate setting is prepared, the nucleus is bombarded with neutrons in such a way that they penetrate the nuclei of the atoms in the uranium. It is sufficient that the nucleus of at least one of the atoms in this mass is split in two. In this division, an average of two or three neutrons are sent out from the mass of the nucleus at great velocity and high energy. Neutrons that are released start a chain reaction by colliding with other uranium nuclei within the mass. Each newly split nucleus behaves like the initial uranium nucleus. Thus, a chain of nuclear reactions starts. A large number of uranium nuclei are split into fragments as a result of these chain reactions, causing an enormous amount of energy to be released.
It was these nuclei divisions that have caused the Hiroshima and Nagasaki disasters, causing the death of tens of thousands of people. At the moment of the detonation of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the United States in 1945 during World War II, and in its aftermath, approximately 100,000 people died. Another atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki by America three days after the Hiroshima disaster caused the death of another 40,000 people right at the moment of detonation. While the power released by the nuclei caused the death of many people, it also destroyed a very large residential area, and gave rise to many irreparable genetic and physiological disorders in the remaining residents of that area, due to the radiation released, which was to affect generations to come.
If our earth, the whole atmosphere, everything animate and inanimate including us, are composed of atoms, what prevents atoms from being involved in nuclear reactions like the ones in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that could occur anytime and anywhere?
The neutrons are created in such a way that, when they are free in nature – without being linked to a nucleus – they are subjected to a decomposition called "beta decay". Because of this disintegration, no neutrons wander freely in nature. Therefore, neutrons that are to be used in nuclear reactions must be obtained through artificial methods.
This makes clear that, Allah, the Creator of the entire universe, created everything with a precise measure. If neutrons had not decomposed in the free state, the earth would be nothing but an uninhabitable spherical celestial body where endless nuclear reactions took place. Allah created the atom along with this colossal power within it and keeps this power under control in a phenomenal way.
Nuclear fusion, just the contrary of fission, is the process of bringing together two light nuclei to form a heavier nucleus and using the bonding energy thus released. However, to achieve this in a controlled fashion is very difficult. This is because nuclei carry positive electrical charges and repel each other very strongly if forced to come together. Therefore, a force strong enough to overcome the repulsive force between them must be used to make them fuse. This required kinetic energy is equivalent to a temperature of 20-30 million degrees.44 This is an extraordinarily high temperature and although researchers have been trying for years to produce a stable fusion reaction that produces more power than it consumes, they have not been successful so far.
Fusion reactions take place in the sun all the time. The heat and light coming from the sun is the result of hydrogen being fused into helium and energy being released in place of the matter lost during this conversion. Each second, the sun converts 564 million tons of hydrogen to 560 million tons of helium. The remaining 4 million tons of matter is converted into energy. This tremendous event producing the solar energy that is extremely vital for life on our planet, has continued for millions of years without pause. This may bring to our minds such a question: If such a great amount of matter as 4 million tons is lost in the sun each second, when will the sun be fully consumed?
The sun loses 4 million tons of matter per second, 240 million tons per minute. If we assume that the sun has been producing energy at this rate for 3 billion years, the mass it has lost during this period would be 400,000 million times million tons, which is equal to one 5,000th of the current total mass of the sun.
This amount is like one gram of sand being lost out of a 5 kilogram rock in 3 billion years. As this makes clear, the mass of the sun is so enormous that a very long time has to pass before it is finished.
Man has only discovered the composition of the sun and the events taking place inside it this century. Earlier, no one ever knew about phenomena such as nuclear explosions, fission or fusion. Nobody knew how the sun produced energy. Yet, while man was unaware of all these, the sun always continued to be the energy source of the earth and life, for millions of years with this incredible mechanism.
Now, the really curious thing is that our earth has been placed at such an exact distance from the sun – a source of energy possessing an enormous mass – that it is neither exposed to its scorching, destructive power, nor deprived of the useful energy it provides. In the same way, the sun, which possesses such enormous power and energy, is created at the distance, with the power and the size which are perfect for all life on earth, and foremost, man.
This gigantic mass and the incredible nuclear reactions occurring in it have been carrying on their activities for millions of years in perfect harmony with the earth and in the most controlled manner. To understand what an extraordinary, controlled and balanced system this is, it is good enough to remember that man is incapable of controlling even one simple nuclear power plant he has established. No scientist, no technological equipment was able to prevent the nuclear accident that occurred in the Chernobyl reactor in Russia in 1986. It is said that the impact of this nuclear accident will endure for 30-40 years. Although scientists have covered around the contaminated sections of the reactor with enormously thick concrete to prevent further damage, it was later reported that there were leaks from the concrete. Let alone nuclear explosions, even nuclear leaks are extremely dangerous for human life, and science is helpless against this threat.
At this point, we stand facing Allah's endless power and His sovereignty over each particle (atom) in the universe and the sub-atomic particles inside this particle (protons, neutrons…). Allah's power and sovereignty over the beings He creates are stated in a verse as follows:
You do not engage in any matter or recite any of the Qur'an or do any action without Our witnessing you while you are occupied with it. Not even the smallest speck eludes your Lord, either on earth or in heaven. Nor is there anything smaller than that, or larger, which is not in a Clear Book. (Surah Yunus: 61)
Effects of the Atomic Bomb: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The atomic bombs dropped in the final year of World War II have revealed to the whole world the tremendous power hidden in the atom. Both bombs caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their lives and inflicted lifelong physical damage on many of the survivors.
Although the impact of the explosion depends on the power of the bomb and various environmental conditions, let us see, based on the example of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, how the enormous power inside the atom, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in a few seconds, is released second by second:
- The moment of explosion…
Let us assume that an atomic bomb explodes at an altitude of 2,000 m as it did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The neutrons bombarding the uranium and which split the first atoms into fragments creates chain reactions within the mass as mentioned before. In other words, the neutrons thrown out from the first fragmented nuclei hit other nuclei and split these new nuclei as well. Thus, all nuclei are rapidly fragmented in a chain reaction and the explosion occurs in a very short time. Neutrons move so fast that the bomb releases a total energy of 1,000 billion kilo-calories during one millionth of a second.
The temperature of the gas, into which the bomb is instantaneously converted, rises to several million degrees and the gas pressure rises to one million atmospheres.
- One thousandth of a second after the explosion…
The diameter of the detonated mass of gas increases and various rays are emitted. These radiations form the "initial flash" of the explosion. This flash may cause full blindness in anyone standing within an area having a diameter of tens of kilometres. This flash is hundreds of times stronger than that emitted from the surface of the sun (per surface unit). The time elapsed since the outset of the explosion is so short that people close to the explosion site cannot even find time to close their eyes.
The pressure of the shock causes heavy damage indoors. Power transmission towers, two-piece bridges and skyscrapers built from glass-steel are also damaged. In the close surroundings of the explosion, a great amount of powder-like fine dust is raised.
- 2 seconds after the explosion…
The flashing mass and the air surrounding it form a fireball. The heat radiated from this fireball, whose surface is still extremely hot and which glows like the sun and even more, is powerful enough to ignite all combustible matter within an area of 4-5 kilometres in diameter. The radiance of the fireball may cause irreparable damage to the sense of vision. At this moment, a shock wave moving at very great speed develops around the fireball.
- 6 seconds after the explosion…
At this point, the shock wave hits the earth and causes the first mechanical damage. The wave creates powerful air pressure, the intensity of which decreases as one goes farther from the centre of the explosion. Even around 1.5 km away from this point, the added pressure is twice as strong as normal atmospheric pressure. The chance of people staying alive at this pressure is 1%.
- 13 seconds after the explosion…
The shock wave diffuses along the surface of the earth and it is followed by the explosion created by the repositioning of the air sent by the fireball. This explosion diffuses along the earth at a speed of 300-400 km per hour.
In the meantime, the fireball has cooled down and its volume has decreased. Being lighter than air, it starts to rise. This upward motion causes the direction of wind on the earth to reverse and causes a strong wind to start blowing towards the centre, even though it was initially blowing outwards from the centre of the explosion.
- 30 seconds after the explosion…
As the fireball rises, its spherical shape is distorted and it takes the appearance of a mushroom.
2 minutes after the explosion…
The mushroom shaped cloud has now reached an altitude of 12,000 metres. This is the lower limit of the stratospheric layer of the atmosphere. The winds blowing at this altitude cause the mushroom shaped cloud to disperse and the components of the cloud (mostly radioactive remains) to scatter into the atmosphere. As these radioactive remains consist of very tiny particles, they may rise to higher layers in the atmosphere. Before falling on the earth, these remains may be made to travel several times around the earth by the winds blowing in the upper layers of the atmosphere. Thus, radioactive remains may be dispersed all over the world.
Radiation Emitted By the Atom
Radiation consists of gamma rays, neutrons, electrons and similar sub-atomic particles moving at very high speeds such as 200,000 km per second. These particles may easily penetrate the human body and harm the cells forming the body. This damage may cause a fatal cancer or, if it takes place in reproductive cells, it may give rise to genetic disorders that will influence generations to come. Therefore, the results of a radioactive particle hitting a human being are very serious.
Radiation released in atomic explosions affects living beings either directly or through the products of radioactive decay that emerge during the explosion.
As one of these particles or rays travels at high speed in matter, it collides very strongly with atoms or molecules that get in its way. This collision may be a disaster for the delicate structure of the cell. The cell may die, or, even if it recovers, it may start to grow in an uncontrolled fashion – which is cancer – perhaps weeks, months, or years later.
Radiation is very intense in an area of 1,000 metres in diameter around the centre of the explosion. Those who survive other fatal factors lose almost all white cells in their blood, wounds appear on their skins, and all of them die because of haemorrhages in a short period of time from a few days up to two or three weeks. The effect of radiation on those farther from the point of explosion varies. Those who are exposed to these harmful rays emitted by the fireball at distances of 13, 16, and 22 km suffer from third, second, and first degree burns respectively. Digestive problems and haemorrhages are experienced less, but real disorders appear later: hair loss, skin burns, anaemia, sterility, miscarriages, giving birth to crippled or deformed babies. In these cases, too, death is possible within a period from ten days to three months. Even years later, sight disorders, leukaemia and radiation cancer may develop. One of the greatest dangers of hydrogen bomb explosions (another nuclear bomb of enormous destructive power caused by the fusion of the nuclei of various hydrogen isotopes in the formation of helium nuclei) is the entrance of radioactive dust into the body through respiration, digestion and the skin. This dust causes the above-mentioned disorders depending on the degree of contamination.
All these are caused by atoms, which we cannot even see with our eyes. Atoms can form life just as they can destroy it. This property of the atom shows us very clearly how helpless we are and how superior is Allah's power.
Those who disbelieve say, 'The Hour will never come.' Say: 'Yes, by my Lord, it certainly will come!' He is the Knower of the Unseen, Whom not even the weight of the smallest particle eludes, either in the heavens or in the earth; nor is there anything smaller or larger than that which is not in a Clear Book. (Surah Saba': 3)