Nuclear Power Plant Isar, Germany

Spent nuclear fuel pool

Turbine of a nuclear plant

What Is Nuclear Energy

What Is Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is the energy in the nucleus of an atom. Atoms are the smallest particles that can break a material. At the core of each atom there are two types of particles (neutrons and protons) that are held together. Nuclear energy is the energy that holds neutrons and protons.

Nuclear technology allows us to transform this type of energy into other types of energy: electric power (in nuclear power plants), kinetic energy (in certain propulsion systems) ...

The most common and known use of nuclear energy is the production of electric power or electricity.

Harnessing nuclear energy

In order to take advantage of the nuclear energy present in the nucleus of atoms, it can be done in two ways: splitting the nucleus of an atom or fusing the nucleus of two atoms. In the first case we call it nuclear fission and in the second nuclear fusion.

The energy produced by the Sun, for example, comes from nuclear fusion reactions. But currently replicating nuclear fusion reactions artificially is very difficult so that all nuclear reactors generate fission reactions.

When one of these two physical reactions occurs (nuclear fission or nuclear fusion) the atoms experience a slight loss of mass. This mass that is lost becomes a large amount of heat energy as Albert Einstein discovered with his famous equation E = mc2.

In nuclear fusion, atoms join together and in nuclear fission, atoms are split apart.

Nuclear fuel

The vast majority of nuclear power reactors use enriched uranium as a nuclear fuel. Uranium is an element that is naturally found that following a certain process is enriched to make it more unstable. Being unstable means that it is easier to divide, which is precisely what is intended to be done in a nuclear reactor.

The planet's uranium reserves are not considered unlimited, so nuclear energy is not considered a renewable energy such as solar or wind energy.

Uses of nuclear energy

Although the production of electric power is the most common utility there are many other applications of nuclear energy in other sectors. These applications can be for civil or military use. There are a large number of treaties and agreements to regulate these activities.

Within the civil applications we would find the generation of electrical energy or medical, environmental, industrial applications.

On the other hand, within military applications would be military armament such as the atomic bomb or the propulsion of military vehicles such as submarines or the propulsion of long-range missiles.

Video - What is nuclear energy?

We ecourage you to watch this  viedo made by National Geographic which explains clearly what is nuclear energy.

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Last review: August 31, 2017