What is Nuclear Energy?
1. Nuclear energy originates from the splitting of uranium atoms in a process called fission. At the power plant, the fission process is used to generate heat for producing steam, which is used by a turbine to generate electricity.
2. Nuclear energy was discovered in the mid-twentieth century and first utilized in a military capacity in the atomic bombings of Hiroshimaand Nagasaki. The implementation of nuclear energy as a source of power was slow to come to fruition, but ultimately became an integral part of the world's power source. With the oil crisis of the 1970's, nuclear power was the preferred method of new energy development, but dangerous meltdowns created a culture of fear amongst the world.
Although they are tiny, atoms have a large amount ofenergy holding their nuclei together. Certain isotopes of some elements can be split and will release part of their energy as heat. This splitting is called fission. The heat released in fission can be used to help generate electricity in power plants. Uranium-235 (U-235) is one of the isotopes that fissions easily. During fission, U-235 atoms absorb loose neutrons. This causes U-235 to becomeunstable and split into two light atoms called fission products The combined mass of the fission products is less than that of the original U-235. The reduction occurs because some of the matter changes into energy. The energy is released as heat. Two or three neutrons are released along with the heat. These neutrons may hit other atoms, causing more fission.
A series of fissions is called a chainreaction. If enough uranium is brought together under the right conditions, a continuous chain reaction occurs. This is called a self-sustaining chain reaction. A self-sustaining chain reaction creates a great deal of heat, which can be used to help generate electricity. Nuclear power plants generate electricity like any other steam-electric power plant. Water is heated, and steam from theboiling water turns turbines and generates electricity. The main difference in the various types of steam-electric plants is the heat source. Heat from a self sustaining chain reaction boils the water in a nuclear power plant. Coal, oil, or gas is burned in other power plants to heat the water.
The concept of the atom has existed for many centuries. But we only recently began to understand theenormous power contained in the tiny mass. In the years just before and during World War II, nuclear research focused mainly on the development of defense weapons. Later, scientists concentrated on peaceful applications of nuclear technology. An important use of nuclear energy is the generation of electricity. After years of research, scientists have successfully applied nuclear technology tomany other scientific, medical, and industrial purposes. This pamphlet traces the history of our discoveries about atoms. We begin with the ideas of the Greek philosophers. Then we follow the path to the early scientists who discovered radioactivity. Finally, we reach modern-day use of atoms as a valuable source of energy. This pamphlet also includes a detailed chronology of the history of nuclearenergy and a glossary. We hope the glossary will explain terms that may be new to some readers and that studying the chronology will encourage readers to explore the resources listed in the bibliography. By doing so, you can discover first-hand our nation’s efforts to develop and control this powerful technology.
3. The nuclear fuel cycle is the series of industrial processes which involve theproduction of electricity from uranium in nuclear power reactors. Uranium is a relatively common element that is found throughout the world. It is mined in a number of countries and must be processed before it can be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor. Fuel removed from a reactor, after it has reached the end of its useful life, can be reprocessed to produce new fuel.
Each fuel has its own...
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