energy uses the power of a uranium atom to produce electricity.
An atom is broken apart, resulting in heat. This heat is absorbed
by water. The hot water or steam runs a generator, which produces
energy is one of the most recent achievements in the long history
of harnessing energy, and one of the most controversial. A result
of research originally done to produce the atomic bomb, nuclear
energy takes advantage of the incredible within the atom in a productive instead of destructive
way. Explore more about this powerful but potentially dangerous
form of energy.
Dept. of Commerce/NOAA
Nuclear plants first
came on-line during the late 1950s. In the 1970's, plants popped
up across the United States as a solution to our reliance on foreign
sources of energy. Tightly regulated by the federal government,
plants were issued operating licenses lasting approximately 40 years.
Many of those licenses are about to expire and
again our nation
is questioning our dependence on foreign energy
how it works.
is mined from the earth.
- The uranium
is formed into small pellets, and placed in long rods.
of these rods are housed in a strictly contained environment called
a reactor, where the nuclear reaction unfolds.
reaction begins when
of the uranium atoms are bombarded with neutrons, causing the
nuclei to split apart. This process is called .
the nuclei split apart, some of the energy takes the form of heat,
the rest results in
- The heat
is put to work, turning water into steam
steam drives a ,
which spins a ,
Due to the
dangers of radiation, the fission process is conducted under strictly
controlled conditions. The primary use of nuclear energy is to produce
electricity, and the extremely efficient process contributes a steady
supply of power to our overall energy mix. Just one pound of uranium
produces as much energy as 3 million pounds of coal.
energy's environmental impact is minimal. It does not contribute
to air pollution. Nuclear power contributes no
at all to the atmosphere. Compare that to fossil fuels whose emissions,
known as , are
blamed for everything from global climate change to
problems and .
benefit is the cost of producing the power. When compared to other
energy types, nuclear is relatively cheap. The cost of the raw
is less than natural gas, oil, or coal. The costs of running the
actual plant are similar to those of running a coal or gas plant.
Those lower costs combine to give consumers cheap electricity.
energy power plants produce a consistently large amount of power.
most serious limitations of nuclear energy are disposal/storage
of the nuclear waste, and .
After a period of time in the reactor, the bundles of rods lose
their ability to produce heat effectively. These "spent"
rods remain radioactive, posing a disastrous threat if that radiation
were released. Since it takes hundreds of thousands of years for
the radiation to extinguish, nuclear waste has to be disposed of
in a way that will contain the radioactivity and protect people.
of Spent Fuel
do we store a material that is radioactive? After all, we can't
just leave radioactive waste lying around. We don't want terrorists
to have access to the nuclear waste and use it for weapons. And
we can't put it in a landfill without seriously damaging our environment.
The Federal Government has decided to create a national repository
for nuclear waste in Nevada. Yucca Mountain will be the long-term
storage site for all nuclear waste in the US This means transporting
the waste over long distances in order to dispose of it, a plan
which concerns many Americans. Industry officials counter those
concerns by stressing the safety precautions they take. The waste
is in a solid form, and carried in extremely durable containers,
making a "spill" highly unlikely. But, no one can say
with certainty how safe a place Yucca Mountain is or how long storage
containers could last. And they will need to last for 40,000 years.
happens when an atom degrades, shooting off neutrons. It is very
dangerous for all animal life when it isn't controlled. Your body's
DNA can be damaged by too much radiation. Radioactivity is spread
by wind, affecting large areas. And radioactivity remains in an
area long after a reactor melts down. The radioactivity will stay
in an environment for years.
power can be generated almost anywhere. Its dependent only
on a supply of uranium and the physical space needed for the plant.
However, the potential dangers of nuclear power make it a tough
sell to get communities to allow plants to be built. The nuclear
industry points to good-paying jobs, contributions to the communitys
tax base, and to their safety record as incentives for communities
to let nuclear plants locate there. For example, pebble
bed reactors , a new design of nuclear energy plants,
may allow smaller communities to use nuclear energy.
do you think?
Weigh the benefits
and the limitations of nuclear power. Should this
have a bigger piece of our "energy pie?"
Would you want a nuclear reactor in your community? Would
you want nuclear waste stored near your community?
- CNN. "Chernobyl's
Deadly Legacy." (Online) http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/04/25/ukraine.chernobyl/index.html.
- Energy Information
Administration. "World Nuclear Generation of Electricity." (Online)
- Energy Information
Administration. "U.S. Nuclear Generation of Electricity." (Online)
Energy Institute. "Nuclear Energy in Iowa." (Online) http://www.nei.org/documents/maps/statebystate/iowa.html.
- Pebble Bed
Modular Reactor Ltd. "The Advantages of a Pebble Bed Reactor."
- World Nuclear
Association. "Chernobyl." (Online) http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/chernobyl/inf07.htm.
New Design for Nuclear Plants: The Pebble Bed Reactor
nuclear power reactor designs could help ease concerns over the
safety of nuclear power generation. One new design called the "pebble
bed reactor" differs in several ways from the current generation
of reactors. More
have been three major nuclear accidents, one in the United States
at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility in Pennsylvania, one in
Chernobyl, Russia... More
new nuclear plants be built over the next 20 years?
and Cons of Nuclear Power and Trying to Cope with Nuclear Fear
on underground storage tanks leaking nuclear waste.
how nuclear waste will be stored in Yucca Mountain? NewsHour Extra
looks into the
sticky situation of storing our nuclear waste.
and debating for twenty years, the US government supports the Yucca
Mountain plan to store tons of radioactive waste in a Nevada
makes sure Nuclear Power is safe?
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates U.S. commercial nuclear
power plants and the civilian use of nuclear materials