The spent nuclear fuel nuclear waste can be handled properly and disposed of geologically without affecting the environment in any way. In March, the former NASA scientist James Hansen of the ppm limit fame published a paper showing that nuclear energy has saved a total of 1.
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That includes any deaths nuclear energy has been responsible for from its accidents. With nuclear power, many countries can approach energy independence. Being "addicted to oil" is a major national and global security concern for various reasons. Using electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles PHEVs powered by nuclear reactors, we could reduce our oil demands by orders of magnitude.
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Additionally, many nuclear reactor designs can provide high-quality process heat in addition to electricity, which can in turn be used to desalinate water, prepare hydrogen for fuel cells, or to heat neighborhoods, among many other industrial processes. When atoms split to release energy, the smaller atoms that are left behind are often left in excited states, emitting energetic particles that can cause biological damage.
This nuclear waste must be controlled and kept out of the environment for at least that long. Designing systems to last that long is a daunting task — one that been a major selling point of anti-nuclear groups. Three major accidents have occurred in commercial power plants: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima. Chernobyl was an uncontrolled steam explosion which released a large amount of radiation into the environment, killing over 50 people, requiring a mass evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, and causing up to cancer cases.
Three Mile Island was a partial-core meltdown, where coolant levels dropped below the fuel and allowed some of it to melt. No one was hurt and very little radiation was released, but the plant had to close, causing the operating company and its investors to lose a lot of money. Fukushima was a station black-out caused by a huge Tsunami.
Four neighboring plants lost cooling and the decay heat melted the cores.
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Radiation was released and the public was evacuated. These three accidents are very scary and keep many people from being comfortable with nuclear power. Nuclear power plants are larger and more complicated than other power plants.
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Many redundant safety systems are built to keep the plant operating safely. This complexity causes the up-front cost of a nuclear power plant to be much higher than for a comparable coal plant. Once the plant is built, the fuel costs are much less than fossil fuel costs.
In general, the older a nuclear plant gets, the more money its operators make. The large capital cost keeps many investors from agreeing to finance nuclear power plants. Toggle navigation. Concepts Learn about nuclear energy What is Nuclear Energy? What is Radioactivity? What is Nuclear Engineering? What is radioactive dose? Nuclear Reactor Risk Assessment? What is a nuclear fuel cycle? Computing the energy density of nuclear fuel Barn Jams! What is nuclear energy? Fission and Fusion There are two fundamental nuclear processes considered for energy production: fission and fusion.
Fission is the energetic splitting of large atoms such as Uranium or Plutonium into two smaller atoms, called fission products.
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To split an atom, you have to hit it with a neutron. Several neutrons are also released which can go on to split other nearby atoms, producing a nuclear chain reaction of sustained energy release. This nuclear reaction was the first of the two to be discovered. All commercial nuclear power plants in operation use this reaction to generate heat which they turn into electricity. Fusion is the combining of two small atoms such as Hydrogen or Helium to produce heavier atoms and energy. These reactions can release more energy than fission without producing as many radioactive byproducts.
Fusion reactions occur in the sun, generally using Hydrogen as fuel and producing Helium as waste fun fact: Helium was discovered in the sun and named after the Greek Sun God, Helios. With Clean Energy. Beyond Electricity. Advocacy Expand Navigation.
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