Nuclear energy is released by the splitting (fission) or merging together (fusion) of the nuclei of atom(s).

The conversion of nuclear mass to energy is consistent with the massenergy equivalence formula E = m.c², in which E = energy release, m = mass defect, and c = the speed of light in a vacuum (a physical constant). Nuclear energy was first discovered by French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896, when he found that photographic plates stored in the dark near uranium were blackened like X-ray plates, which had been just recently discovered at the time 1894.[1] Nuclear chemistry can be used as a form of alchemy to turn lead into gold or change any atom to any other atom (albeit through many steps).[2] Radionuclide (radioisotope) production often involves irradiation of another isotope (or more precisely a nuclide), with alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma rays. Iron has the highest binding energy per nucleon of any atom. If an atom of lower average binding energy is changed into an atom of higher average binding energy, energy is given off. The chart shows that fusion of hydrogen, the combination to form heavier atoms, releases energy, as does fission of uranium, the breaking up of a larger nucleus into smaller parts. Stability varies between isotopes: the isotope U-235 is much less stable than the more common U-238.

The sun and stars are seemingly inexhaustible sources of energy. That energy is the result of nuclear reactions, in which matter is converted to energy. We have been able to harness that mechanism and regularly use it to generate power. Presently, nuclear energy provides for approximately 16% of the world's electricity. Unlike the stars, the nuclear reactors that we have today work on the principle of nuclear fission. Scientists are working like madmen to make fusion reactors which have the potential of providing more energy with fewer disadvantages than fission reactors.

Changes can occur in the structure of the nuclei of atoms. These changes are called nuclear reactions. Energy created in a nuclear reaction is called nuclear energy, or atomic energy. Nuclear energy is produced naturally and in man -made operations under human control.  

Naturally: Some nuclear energy is produced naturally. For example, the Sun and other stars make heat and light by nuclear reactions. Man-Made: Nuclear energy can be man-made too. Machines called nuclear reactors, parts of nuclear power plants, provide electricity for many cities. Man -made nuclear reactions also occur in the explosion of atomic and hydrogen bombs.

Nuclear energy is produced in two different ways, in one, large nuclei are split to release energy. In the other method, small nuclei are combined to release energy. For a more detailed look at nuclear fission and nuclear fusion, consult the nuclear physics page. 

Nuclear Fission: In nuclear fission, the nuclei of atoms are split, causing energy to be released. The atomic bomb and nuclear reactors work by fission. The element uranium is the main fuel used to undergo nuclear fission to produce energy since it has many favorable properties. Uranium nuclei can be easily split by shooting neutrons at them. Also, once a uranium nucleus is split, multiple neutrons are released which are used to split other uranium nuclei. This phenomenon i s known as a chain reaction.

Fission of uranium 235 nucleus. Adapted from Nuclear Energy. Nuclear Waste*. 

Nuclear Fusion: In nuclear fusion, the nuclei of atoms are joined together, or fused. This happens only under very hot conditions. The Sun, like all other stars, creates heat and light through nuclear fusion. In the Sun, hydrogen nuclei fuse to make helium. The hydrogen bomb, humanity's most powerful and destructive weapon, also works by fusion. The heat required to start the fusion reaction is so great that an atomic bomb is used to provide it. Hydrogen nuclei fuse to form helium and in the process release huge amounts of energy thus producing a huge explosion.

Milestones in the History of Nuclear Energy
Amore in depth and detailed history of nuclear energy is on the nuclear past page.  


December 2, 1942: The Nuclear Age began at the University of Chicago when Enrico Fermi made a chain reaction in a pile of uranium. August 6, 1945: The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing over 100,000. August 9, 1945: The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, killing over 40,000. November 1, 1952: The first large version of the hydrogen bomb (thousands of times more powerful than the atomic bomb) was exploded by the United States for testing purposes. February 21, 1956: The first major nuclear power plant opened in England.

Advantages of Nuclear Energy   

The Earth has limited supplies of coal and oil. Nuclear power plants could still produce electricity after coal and oil become scarce. Nuclear power plants need less fuel than ones which burn fossil fuels. One ton of uranium produces more energy than is produced by several million tons of coal or several million barrels of oil. Coal and oil burning plants pollute the air. Well-operated nuclear power plants do not release contaminants into the environment.

Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy
The nations of the world now have more than enough nuclear bombs to kill every person on Earth. The two most powerful nations -Russia and the United States -- have about 50,000 nuclear weapons between them. What if there were to be a nuclear war? What if terrorists got their hands on nuclear weapons? Or what if nuclear weapons were launched by accident?  

Nuclear explosions produce radiation. The nuclear radiation harms the cells of the body which can make people sick or even kill them. Illness can strike people years after their exposure to nuclear radiation. One possible type of reactor disaster is known as a meltdown. In such an accident, the fission reaction goes out of control, leading to a nuclear explosion and the emission of great amounts of radiation.  

In 1979, the cooling system failed at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Radiation leaked, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee. The problem was solved minutes before a total meltdown would have occurred. Fortunately, there were no deaths.  In 1986, a much worse disaster struck Russia's Chernobyl nuclear power plant. In this incident, a large amount of radiation escaped from the reactor. Hundreds of thousands of people were exposed to the radiation. Several dozen died within a few days. In the years to come, thousands more may die of cancers induced by the radiation. Nuclear reactors also have waste disposal problems. Reactors produce nuclear waste products which emit dangerous radiation. Because they could kill people who touch them, they cannot be thrown away like ordinary garbage. Currently, many nuclear wastes are stored in special cooling pools at the nuclear reactors.  The United States plans to move its nuclear waste to a remote underground dump by the year 2010.  In 1957, at a dump site in Russia's Ural Mou ntains, several hundred miles from Moscow, buried nuclear wastes mysteriously exploded, killing dozens of people. Nuclear reactors only last for about forty to fifty years. 

The Future of Nuclear Energy
Some people think that nuclear energy is here to stay and we must learn to live with it. Others say that we should get rid of all nuclear weapons and power plants. Both sides have their cases as there are advantages and disadvantages to nuclear energy. Still others have opinions that fall somewhere in between. What do you think we should do? After reviewing the pros and cons, it is up to you to formulate your own opinion. Read more about the politics of the issues or go to the forum to share your own opinions and see what others think.
Are advantages of nuclear energy such that it could be part of the solution to global warming? Or is nuclear radiation an even greater problem? The debate about whether to build nuclear energy reactors is again in full swing. It is necessary, as we become more aware about the magnitude of the climate change

through the global warming phenomenon. So identifying significant advantages of nuclear energy would be important. Most scientists agree that we are seeing the effects of global warming already and that the imminent future looks dire. We must reduce the emissions that cause global warming. Therefore alternative energy must be employed. Some think this means a wholesale adoption of nuclear energy, some see no advantages of nuclear energy, some believe in a mix of nuclear energy with renewable energy. Now even garden-shed size "neighborhood nuclear power plants" are a reality "Is nuclear energy not renewable then?", you ask.
Is nuclear energy the best way to save our planet from effects of global warming?

Yes, it's the cleanest

No, we should use renewable energy Both are valid, a mix of nuclear and renewable energy None of the above, we can produce clean energy from fossil fuels

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Well, thanks for the question, which goes right to the heart of advantages of nuclear energy and disadvantages. "Yes, No, Maybe", depending on what kind of reactor you use. More about that later.

Nuclear energy provides between 11% and 18% of world electricity needs. But the USA has not built any nuclear reactors since 1978 because of public opinion which does not identify many advantages to nuclear energy. Eight of its reactors have been decommissioned since then, leaving it with some 130 reactors. Of course the USA is also the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases through burning of fossil fuel. Currently there are some 442 nuclear reactors in the world with at least another 12 under construction in Asian countries, Brazil and Finland. Australia with its abundant uranium ore supplies has recently entered into uranium contracts with economically fast growing giants India and China, also two major contributors to greenhouse gases. These countries are also among those that have decided on the advantages of nuclear energy and are building nuclear reactors. Energy demands are growing fast everywhere and we cannot afford to continue to meet them with finite and polluting fossil fuels. During the last decade in the previous century world energy use grew by 20% and has been at around 3% per year and growing. James Lovelock, of Gaia fame, is supporting nuclear energy as the only way to minimise serious harm from global warming. Something he says is now inevitable as he forecasts a debilitated physical and social world. We can now only minimise the impacts. So« the stakes are high whichever way you look at it. If there are advantages to nuclear energy it makes sense to hear them despite nuclear radiation risks from accidents, weapons proliferation and so on.
So what are advantages of nuclear energy?

Fissile atoms contain vast amounts of energy Nuclear fission, the splitting of a heavy atom¶s nucleus, releases great amounts of energy. For example the energy it releases is 10 million times greater than is released by the burning of an atom of fossil fuel. Besides it would take many hectares of land covered with solar collectors, wind farms or hydro-electric dams to equal this power.

No greenhouse gases are released by nuclear power plants. According to some, even when accounting for the fossil fuel used in mining uranium, processing it, building and decommissioning of the nuclear plant, the picture remains good from this perspective. Less than one-hundredth of carbon dioxide gas is produced by nuclear power plants compared to coal or gas-fired energy plants. This means nuclear energy also emits less greenhouse gas than renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind, solar and biomass. Ofcourse, others have contrary views to these claims about the advantages of nuclear energy. Cost The major costings in building nuclear power plants are usually those of construction and operating the nuclear plant as well as that of waste disposal and cost of decommissioning the plant. The end product, useable energy has been estimated to be around 3 - 5 cents (US) per KiloWatt-Hour. However there are many variables, including type of reactor, cost-over runs in construction and decommissioning, and loan interest rates. In the American nuclear power industry the cost of producing electricity has fallen from 3.63 cents per KW-hr in 1978 to 1.68 cents per KW-hr in 2004.
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Again, there are opposing views as to the cost and other aspects of advantages of nuclear energy. Availability of uranium Uranium is obtained from open-cut mines and is not expensive to mine. World reserves are estimated to last anywhere between 6 to 150 years, to even hundreds of centuries, depending on who is the commentator, and depending on the type of reactor they have in mind. Present reactors only use some 1% of the energy available in uranium but in future fast breeder reactors could recycle spent fuel rods at a 99% efficiency rate. The potency and quantity of radio active waste material from such reactors is much less than that of current thermal reactors. In the US alone, with just under a third of nuclear reactors worldwide there are 43,000 metric tons of accumulated nuclear waste stored at reactor sites. This is useable fuel for fast breeders but their construction however is at least 15 years off. These are some of the advantages of nuclear energy, but of course, apart from the first advantage, they are contested.

Other advantages include,

y y y

Nuclear fuel is inexpensive Waste is highly compact, unlike carbon dioxide The compact fuel is easy to transport

Major challenges of nuclear energy include,

Nuclear radiation accidents Although only ever one serious nuclear accident has occurred, in Chernobyl in 1986, such an accident affects many thousands of people, livestock and agricultural production over a large geographical area. In the case of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, nuclear fall-out reached as far as areas of the UK. Supposedly poor reactor design at Chernobyl allowed the emission of radioactivity and this has not been repeated elsewhere. However one accident is too many. Nuclear weapons proliferation It is not easy to handle the highly toxic plutonium that is needed to produce a nuclear bomb. So, for terrorists this is nigh impossible. Constructing a µdirty¶ nuclear bomb for instance is much easier. However some governments of nuclear states may now or in the future be regarded as terrorist in their willingness to use nuclear weapons or sell uranium to states that have not signed the international nuclear proliferation treaty. Other disadvantages include, Nuclear power requires a large capital cost, involving emergency, containment, radioactive waste and storage systems Long-term storage of nuclear waste is difficult. And not only from a geological standpoint. Where to store it is difficult in a world where political stability cannot be guaranteed for 50 years, let alone for 10,000. No-one can predict who will access this waste in future generations and for which purposes. Ground water contamination would be a deadly nuclear legacy. Take Germany, where its previous Social-Democrat/Greens government resolved to phase out nuclear energy and its present Conservative government has put it back on the agenda. But nuclear waste is now a big headache. 126,000 rusting containers of atomic waste are buried 750 metres down in a disused salt mine in Asse, Lower Saxony. They contain low-grade radioactive waste from nuclear reactors, buried between 1967 and 1978. The waste comprises some 100 tonnes of uranium, 87 tonnes of thorium and 25kg of plutonium. Water is leaking into the mine at a rate of 12,000 litres a day and geologists have warned that the mine could collapse. It now needs to be brought back to the surface to try and stop ground water contamination.

Further advantages of nuclear energy?

Among the further advantages of nuclear energy against the backdrop of climate change, is that we are forced to look at ourselves. What have we done to get us here? Any promise of unlimited energy, nuclear or otherwise, is deceptive in a world that exists because of tensions, limitations, dependency and vulnerability. We may have to adjust to that reality and use less energy than we actually think we need. You and I will need to review our priorities. Inevitably we will need to use more of the energies of relationship and genuine care for each other and our environments to be a success at that.

Pros and cons of nuclear power
As a result of the current discussion how further global warming could be prevented or at least mitigated, the revival of nuclear power seems to be in everybody's - or at least in many politician's - mind. It it interesting to see that in many suggestions to mitigate global warming, the focus is put on the advantages of nuclear power generation, its disadvantages are rarely mentioned. Hopefully, the following summary of arguments for and against nuclear power can fill this gap:

Advantages of nuclear power generation:

Nuclear power generation does emit relatively low amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2 ). The emissions of green house gases and therefore the contribution of nuclear power plants to global warming is therefore relatively little. This technology is readily available, it does not have to be developed first. It is possible to generate a high amount of electrical energy in one single plant.

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Disadvantages of nuclear power generation:

The problem of radioactive waste is still an unsolved one. The waste from nuclear energy is extremely dangerous and it has to be carefully looked after for several thousand years (10'000 years according to United States Environmental Protection Agency standards). High risks: Despite a generally high security standard, accidents can still happen. It is technically impossible to build a plant with 100% security. A small probability of


failure will always last. The consequences of an accident would be absolutely devastating both for human being as for the nature (see here , here or here ). The more nuclear power plants (and nuclear waste storage shelters) are built, the higher is the probability of a disastrous failure somewhere in the world.

Nuclear power plants as well as nuclear waste could be preferred targets for terrorist attacks. No atomic energy plant in the world could withstand an attack similar to 9/11 in Yew York. Such a terrorist act would have catastrophic effects for the whole world. During the operation of nuclear power plants, radioactive waste is produced, which in turn can be used for the production of nuclear weapons. In addition, the same knowhow used to design nuclear power plants can to a certain extent be used to build nuclear weapons (nuclear proliferation). The energy source for nuclear energy is Uranium. Uranium is a scarce resource, its supply is estimated to last only for the next 30 to 60 years depending on the actual demand. The time frame needed for formalities, planning and building of a new nuclear power generation plant is in the range of 20 to 30 years in the western democracies. In other words: It is an illusion to build new nuclear power plants in a short time.




Sustainability: Is nuclear energy sustainable?
For several reasons, nuclear power is neither green» nor sustainable:

Both the nuclear waste as well as retired nuclear plants are a life-threatening legacy for hundreds of future generations. It flagrantly contradicts with the thoughts of sustainability if future generations have to deal with dangerous waste generated from preceding generations. See also here . Uranium, the source of energy for nuclear power, is available on earth only in limited quantities. Uranium is being consumed» (i.e. converted) during the operation of the nuclear power plant so it won't be available any more for future generations. This again contradicts the principle of sustainability.


Is nuclear power renewable energy?
Nuclear energy uses Uranium as fuel, which is a scarce resource. The supply of Uranium is expected to last only for the next 30 to 60 years (depending on the actual demand). Therefore nuclear energy is not a renewable energy.


From the above mentioned pros and cons of nuclear power plants, it should be evident that nuclear energy cannot be a solution to any problem. Even worse: it is the source of many further problems. We must not any longer shut our eyes to the consequences of our being on earth. Besides moral, ethical and spiritual reasons, at least for the pure will to survive we should consequently strive for a sustainable living and realize it in our personal life. It's time for change!

The actual interests of the energy industry in nuclear power
Generally speaking, the electrical energy industry is aware of the substantial drawbacks of nuclear power generation. Nevertheless this industry is now spending an incredible amount of money and time, lobbying for the revival of nuclear energy. The main interest of the owners of existing nuclear power plants is however to prolong the life-span for existing nuclear plants. Because the existing plants will be amortised at the end of their originally planned life time, huge financial profits can be realised for any day longer which these plants can be kept in operation. This is much more lucrative than building new nuclear plants! However, to operate nuclear power plants longer than originally planned can be quite dangerous since any plant or technical appliance usually gets more troublesome towards the end of its planned life expectancy.

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