The near future of nuclear science holds the potential for an explosion in technology and controversy. Currently, there are many ongoing efforts to enhance human understanding of nuclear science and to utilize nuclear energy more beneficially. Of course, how far nuclear science actually advances is entirely unpredictable.
Although the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is still intact, many countries have the potential of causing mass destruction to the rest of the world. The atomic bombs used against Japan in World War II were relatively small bombs as compared to the modern atomic and hydrogen bombs in existence today. To put this in perspective, a modern hydrogen bomb has the power of ten megatons,whereas all the explosives detonated in World War II, including the two atomic bombs, only combined to yield two megatons.
Technology will focus on increasing the accuracy of bomb and missile delivery methods as well as creating more effective defense mechanisms.
There will be much more debate about the consequences of nuclear proliferation. Some will argue that all nuclear weapons should be disposed of, whereas others will argue that the current international treaties and organizations will suffice to maintain the safety of the world from nuclear weapons.
The average lifetime for a power plant is between forty and fifty years. The first power plant opened in 1956, so we will probably see many power plants shutting down. With the gradual decline of common energy fuels such as coal and oil, in the future, people will have to make some tough decisions in terms of energy resources. Although many new types of energy such as water, solar, natural gas, geothermal, and wind are being extensively researched and tested, we can bet on nuclear energy as one of the future's main sources of energy. As many countries are seeking nuclear weapons, many countries will also be seeking nuclear power plants to power their lands.
Additionally, much more research will be conducted to maximize the safety from nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Future technology focuses on designing power plants which inherently cannot melt down.
There will also be much more research conducted with the hopes of making nuclear fusion (as opposed to nuclear fission) a way of harnessing energy. Current power plants all harness energy through nuclear fission.
The multi-billion dollar waste management investment Yucca Mountain is scheduled to be completed by the year 2010. This waste storage center will provide a safer and completely regulated way to store waste.
In addition, alternative methods of waste disposal will also be investigated including disposal in space and in the ocean floors.
There will also be much controversy about future site selection for waste sites. Although urban areas consume most of nuclear-generated electricity, radioactive wastes are generally dumped in rural settings, where property values decline and public health is jeopardized. However, the problem of radioactive waste disposal is not unique to the United States. Other countries will be facing the same waste dilemmas.
As of yet, there is still no way to quantify the amount of radiation a person has been exposed to. The best way right now is just an examination of symptoms. However, many symptoms don't show up until days or weeks after the exposure, so many doctors and hospitals waste their time on patients exposed to fatal amounts. One method that is still in develoment is the improvement of computer aided tomography and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging techniques.
Also, further methods are being investigated to treat patients who develop diseases (particularly cancers) as a result of radioactive doses. Currently, the only way to treat these cancers is by replacement. For example, the current treatment for lukemia is with bone marrow transplants to replenish the body's supply of white blood cells. Although this treatment somewhat effective, it is often hard to find possible donors. Additionally, the body might reject the transplant. In the future, scientists hope to formulate ways to "fix" the damaged blood cells.
There are theories that are in developmental stages which hope to create a unified picture of fundamental forces of nature: gravitational force, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and electromagnetic force such as: