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nuclear energy

What is Nuclear Energy?

August 2, 2020 - earthorgkids

Nuclear energy is a very powerful type of energy which is used to create electricity. It is created when the middle of an atom (or nucleus) changes. An atom is the smallest unit of matter and is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The nucleus is made up of protons and neutrons and when it is changed in some way, heat energy is created, which is what creates nuclear energy. 

What is Nuclear Energy Used For?

We use nuclear energy for electricity, and we can even make bombs with it. Nuclear energy uses uranium as a fuel, which is a non-renewable resource, which means that we will eventually run out of this fuel. 

We use uranium because we have much more of it in the world than fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Nuclear energy also lasts much longer than traditional fossil fuel energy. 

How is Nuclear Energy Produced?

Atoms make up everything in the universe and are held together with strong forces. To make electricity, energy must be released from these atoms. This can be done in two ways: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

In “nuclear fission,” atoms are broken apart, and the energy released is used to generate electricity at power plants. It generates heat in a nuclear reactor. The heat is used to boil water into steam. The steam turns huge turbine blades, which drive generators that make electricity. Afterward, the steam is changed back into water and cooled down. The water can be used again and again. Additionally, nuclear-generated energy releases no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Nuclear fission releases a lot of energy. For example, the fission of 0.5kg of uranium produces as much energy as burning 3 000 tons of coal!

In “nuclear fusion,” energy is released when atoms are combined or fused together to form a larger atom. This is how the sun produces energy!

A nuclear reactor is the machine in a power plant where fission takes place. Tiny pieces of uranium get stacked up in long metal tubes, which form the core of the reactor. These rods are held under water to keep them cool and if they get too hot, they melt, causing radioactive material to be released. This is very dangerous to the environment and people and can make you very sick!

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Is Nuclear Power Safe?

This question has been asked for many years. Nuclear power is very efficient; one small piece of uranium can produce as much electricity as 150 gallons of oil. Many see nuclear power as an alternative energy source, but solar and wind energy are far less dangerous. 

Nuclear power plants must be taken care of properly to avoid a meltdown. The radioactive waste that is produced must be stored carefully so that it does not come into contact with the outside environment. Most nuclear fuel is stored under water, but a few reactors store their older and less radioactive fuel in dry storage facilities outside using special concrete or steel containers with air cooling. 

Nuclear power plants are designed to be safe, but accidents have happened. In 1986, a very serious accident happened at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Radioactive gases leaked out of the plant and into the air, which ruined crops and livestock and made people very sick. A similar accident happened when a tsunami damaged a power plant in northern Japan in 2011. 

Did You Know? Even clothes can become contaminated when radiation is produced. Any material that becomes contaminated can remain radioactive for thousands of years!