Energy, Society, and the Environment/Climate Change
What is Nuclear Energy?[edit | edit source]
Nuclear Energy is a term utilized to describe the energy produced when an extremely powerful binding force which holds an atom's nucleus together (hence, "Nuclear" energy) is broken. Essentially, Nuclear energy is Energy observed in the binding, splitting, and decay of an atom's nucleus (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020). Nuclear Energy is found in every atom, and can be harnessed in order to produce Nuclear Power. However, due to the natural size of atom's and the magnitude of the forces observed within an atom's nucleus it is almost impossible to purposely produce a substantial amount of Nuclear energy without the use of advanced technologies (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020).
How can Nuclear Energy Be Used to Produce Nuclear Power[edit | edit source]
Nuclear Power is generally the term used when humans harness and utilize Nuclear energy (U.S. Department Of Energy). There are multiple ways to produce Nuclear Power, and depending upon which method is used Nuclear Power can vary in how safe, costly, and useful it actually is. Generally speaking nuclear power can be produced through two main methods: Nuclear Fission, Nuclear Fusion.
Nuclear Fission[edit | edit source]
Nuclear Fission is currently the most common form of human's harnessing nuclear energy. Since 1990 around 20% of electricity generation in the U.S. has come from nuclear power plants (U.S. Department Of Energy). For power generation fission utilizes chain reactions in order to produce extremely high levels of energy. To accomplish nuclear fission a neutron is launched into Uranium-235 in which, a collision occurs causing the Uranium-235 atom to break into Krypton and Barium while giving off immense amount of energy to be converted to electrical energy and even more neutrons (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2020). These neutrons given off by the Uranium atoms will thus collide with other Uranium atoms causing a chain reaction and producing an extremely large amount of energy.
Nuclear Power Impacts and Usage[edit | edit source]
Nuclear Power generation has many positive attributes that could help society meet energy needs while keeping carbon by-products to a minimum. Nuclear Power has the largest capacity factor of all other mainstream energy sources (roughly 92%) with the second closest being natural gas at about 55% and is the second largest source of low carbon power after hydroelectric power (U.S. Department Of Energy). One nuclear reactor can produce enough energy to displace around 2 natural gas or coal plants, and is considered net-zero in energy carbon emissions. Although Nuclear power has many positive benefits, total adoption of Nuclear power plants has been slower than renewables (U.S. Department Of Energy). This in part, is due to political and public incentive. Firstly, many in the public have a negative outlook on nuclear due to events that occurred in national headlines such as Chernobyl, and Fukushima. The impacts have pushed public perception to adopt what is known as the "Not in my backyard" mentality which is essentially that although most may agree to the positive benefits of nuclear energy; no one person would necessarily want it located in their vicinity (Kinder, P.D., 2019). Politically there are some financial issues with nuclear. The main problem is that nuclear power plants take an immense amount of time and capital to build. One nuclear power plant take 6 to 12 years and cost up to $3 billion to $4 billion dollars to construct (Schlissel & Biewald, 2008). Even after construction is complete it could take another 20 years in operation before becoming profitable. Although many nuclear plants can stay in operation for roughly 60 years before decommissioning (Schlissel & Biewald, 2008).
Schlissel, D. Biewald, B. (2008) Nuclear Power Plant Construction Costs. Synapse Energy Economics inc.
U.S. Department Of Energy. The Ultimate Fast Facts Guide To Nuclear Energy. Office of Nuclear Energy. URL:
U.S. Energy Information Administration (2020) "Nuclear Explained". URL: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/nuclear/#:~:text=During%20nuclear%20fission%2C%20a%20neutron,itself%20over%20and%20over%20again.
Kinder, P. D. (2019, October 9). Not in My Backyard Phenomenon. Encyclopedia Britannica.
Häfele, W. (1974). Hypotheticality and the new challenges: The pathfinder role of nuclear energy. Minerva, 12(3), 303-322.
Bodansky, D. (2007). Nuclear Energy: Principles, Practices, and Prospects. Springer Science & Business Media.