The history of nuclear energy is briefly discussed. The early interest in energy production from nuclei has been associated to the discovery of the neutron in the early thirties and of nuclear fission in 1938. During WW2 the main applications have been military and related to the use of Uranium and Plutonium.
The first reactor for the production of peaceful nuclear power was operated in 1950. 447 commercial reactors produce today about 5 % of the world’s primary energy with 390 GWe in 31 countries. About 250 reactors for research are operating in 55 countries.
The very long lifetime of the fission fragments, approaching one million years, and the occurrence of several serious nuclear accidents have created strong concerns and limited both the expansion and sometimes even the continuation of nuclear energy programs in the foreseeable future.
The future success of nuclear power will strongly depend on the ability of transmuting the waste into shorter-lived products, for instance replacing Uranium with Thorium fuels and adopting accelerator driven systems to control more effectively the fission process.