Category: 

What Is Nuclear Energy?

A nuclear power plant uses fission to heat water into steam that, in turn, drives turbines that generate electricity.
Disasters at a nuclear power plant could cause scores of injuries and deaths, such as what happened at Chernobyl in 1986.
Article Details
  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
A fortune cookie company was investigated for providing the winning lottery numbers on a fortune cookie message.  more...

November 28 ,  1943 :  The key leaders of the Allied forces during World War II met for the first time in Tehran, Iran.  more...

Nuclear energy is simply a term describing any energy associated with atomic reactions. These can be created by people, but they also happen through natural processes. An example of all-natural nuclear energy would be the nuclear fusion process that fuels stars like the sun. In a more practical sense, when most people refer to nuclear energy, they are referring to the human method of harnessing that energy in nuclear power plants. People haven't yet discovered a way to take advantage of nuclear fission, which could potentially be incredibly powerful and highly efficient—they use the nuclear fission process to create energy instead.

In a sense, nuclear fission is the opposite of nuclear fusion. With the nuclear fission process, tiny little particles are thrown at atoms until they break apart and become smaller atoms. Every time this happens, a little bit of energy is released, and other particles are also released that continue to break apart the smaller atoms. This process goes on and on, creating a domino effect and continually building more and more heat. In nuclear fusion, small atoms come together and bigger atoms are formed, which releases massive quantities of energy.

Ad

Mankind uses fission in power plants because it is an easier kind of nuclear energy to control. People have the technology to create fusion as well, and the hydrogen bomb would be an example of that, but there is too much energy involved in fusion reactions, and nobody has found a way to make it safely usable as a power source. Scientists continue to try to unlock the mysteries of controllable fusion reactions.

Nuclear power plants actually work like most other electrical power plants. The heat from the nuclear reaction is used to raise the temperature of water, which generates steam. The power of the steam turns turbines that generate electricity through friction. It's actually not that much different than hydroelectric energy or the way coal power plants work. The big difference is the way the heat is generated.

There is a lot of possible danger in nuclear power plants, but they also have the potential to benefit the environment. On the one hand, a disaster called a meltdown could happen, and many people could be injured or killed, but on the other hand, nuclear power plants don't pollute the air in the same way that coal plants do. Nuclear plants also produce radioactive waste, and finding ways to safely dispose of this waste can be difficult.

Ad

More from Wisegeek

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

anon252922
Post 5

The world needs this but also dos not.

Renegade
Post 4

@SilentBlue

It may be that things would change drastically, but I firmly believe that in the long run, it would be for the better. Do we want our children and grandchildren continuing to fight and kill each other in order to sap the world of its oil?

SilentBlue
Post 3

@arod2b42

Perhaps this is a secret that is kept under lockdown for the sake of the economy. Switching to a different kind of energy could cause upheavals in companies and politics around the world. We should probably tread softly when dealing with these matters.

arod2b42
Post 2

Nuclear energy would be second only to hydrogen energy, which would only generate steam and would have no harm to the environment. This kind of energy would be much longer-lasting than gas, and much less expensive. Probably the only thing that is stopping it from advancing is the fact that people make more money off of selling gas/petrol. However, more people also die for gas/petrol, and the only thing stopping hydrogen energy from advancing is the lack of public awareness of its existence and demand for a large-scale switch.

BostonIrish
Post 1

Nuclear energy would be helpful for two big reasons. I think that switching to a usage of nuclear energy would be safe and sustainable for our environment. There will also be the effect of pulling the oil-power rug out from under the great gas companies and middle eastern regimes.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email