Nuclear Power

Global Warming Fossil Fuels Nuclear Power Energy Storage Carbon Capture Saving Energy
Global Warming Fossil Fuels Nuclear Power Energy Storage CO2 Capture Saving Energy

There are enormous amounts of energy in the bonds between sub-atomic particles that hold atoms together. If we can make use of this ‘nuclear’ energy, it could be a seriously valuable source of power.

How does it work?

Radioactive elements such as uranium or thorium can produce energy through the process of nuclear fission. This is where the nucleus of the atom of the radioactive element is broken down to make two other elements and lots and lots of energy. It is this energy that is converted to electricity in a nuclear power station.

Find out more about the element Uranium from the Royal Society of Chemistry element podcasts (

Is it dangerous?

Nuclear power stations are probably one of the safest places to be. Because there are highly radioactive materials inside the power station there are very tight health, safety and security regulations that everyone has to stick to. There are highly trained safety officers at each site who are regularly moved around to different stations to make sure that the high standards are always maintained.

The problem is that although it is pretty unlikely that anything will go wrong, it could go wrong on a rather large scale. Most people think of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power station in Japan, or perhaps the explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1985 when they think of nuclear power. It is estimated that 56 people died as a direct result of the explosion at Chernobyl, but many thousands were affected by the resultant radiation. . It is reported that there were no direct fatalities from the nuclear accident itself, but tens of thousands of people had to be evacuated because of the risk of increased exposure to radiation.

However, if we put this into perspective, when the Banqiao hydroelectric dam in China collapsed in 1975, over 26 000 people lost their lives as a direct result of the burst, and over three times as many died due to the resultant famine.

Nuclear Waste

The main problem with nuclear power is the radioactive waste it produces and what to do with it. Again, check out the webpage by the World Nuclear Association to find out more about nuclear waste.Nuclear waste

Most of the waste is low-level waste that only needs to be stored away for a few years or decades before it is safe again. However, high-level waste needs to be kept somewhere for thousands of years. There are scientists who are trying to combat these issues.

Is it renewable or non-renewable?

There is a debate as to which category nuclear falls into. The question is whether there are enough radioactive elements that can be used in the reactors for us to keep nuclear power stations running indefinitely. There is only enough quality uranium to go for 50 years but perhaps other radioactive elements could be used, or lower quality uranium may be made useful. If so, then it is renewable.

What are the advantages?

Nuclear power stations produce a lot of power from very little fuel, and emit extremely low amounts of greenhouse gases.

What are the disadvantages?

Nuclear waste is a problem still to combat. People are also worried about the regarded safety aspects and many feel that nuclear is okay, as long as a power station is Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY).

Nuclear fusion

An alternative type of nuclear energy is nuclear fusion – the opposite process to nuclear fission. This is the reaction that takes place in the sun. If scientists and engineers can work out how to recreate it here on earth under energy-efficient conditions, we would be able to create so much energy that the energy crisis would be over! Currently though, the process uses more energy to make it happen than you get out of it. Much more research is required before this can be considered an energy solution.

Global Warming Fossil Fuels Nuclear Power Energy Storage Carbon Capture Saving Energy
Global Warming Fossil Fuels Nuclear Power Energy Storage CO2 Capture Saving Energy