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17: Nuclear Energy

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    Chapter Hook

    It’s like a scene from a post-apocalyptic fictional novel. A city that is slowly deteriorating year after year with human absence. Schools, homes, and business with doors wide open, belongings strewn all over floors and tables, indicating a serious panic and rush from people that once called this city theirs. Unfortunately, Chernobyl is not a fictional novel. It was a city in the former USSR that is the site of the worst nuclear accident in history. On April 25th and 26th in 1986 one of the nuclear reactors exploded releasing up to 30% of Chernobyl’s 190 metric tons of uranium into the atmosphere. Currently, there is a 19-mile-wide prohibition zone around the epicenter of the disaster, and it is estimated not to be safe for 20,000 years! This is the terrible price to pay for the sake of electricity.

    Chernobyl radiation map illustrating various zones of human activity post disaster. Areas closer to disaster zone have much higher concentration of radiation leading to more sever access to the site.
    Figure \(\PageIndex{a}\): Chernobyl radiation map. Image Sting (vectorisation), MTruch (English translation), Makeemlighter (English translation) in Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA2.5)

    Nuclear power is energy released from the radioactive decay of elements, such as uranium, which releases large amounts of energy. It generally  refers to using the heat energy released from nuclear fission reactions to produce electricity. Nuclear power plants produce no carbon dioxide and, therefore, are often considered an alternative fuel (fuels other than fossil fuels).


    • 17.1: Radioactive Isotopes
      Isotopes are atoms of the same element that differ in neutron level. Some isotopes are unstable (radioactive) and decay, releasing radiation. The rate of decay is measured by the half-life. Nuclear fission of uranium-235 can be induced to generate nuclear power.
    • 17.2: Generating Electricity with Nuclear Energy
      The nuclear fuel cycle describes the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium ore to produce nuclear fuel as well as disposal of wastes. Nuclear reactors contain reactor cores, where nuclear fission takes place, and the machinery needed to generate electricity. Nuclear fission releases heat, which produces high-pressure steam to turn a turbine and power a generator.
    • 17.3: Nuclear Energy Consumption
      Nuclear power accounts for 10.4% of electricity production and 4.3% of total energy consumption globally. In the United States, it accounts for 9.6% of the electricity and 8.0% of the total energy consumption.
    • 17.4: Consequences of Nuclear Energy
      Nuclear power does not release greenhouse gases and air pollutants as combustion of fossil fuel does. Furthermore, a rich supply of nuclear fuels are available. However, the storage of dangerous nuclear waste and the risk of nuclear accidents with long-lasting consequences are downsides of using nuclear power.
    • 17.5: Data Dive- Global Nuclear Power Generation
    • 17.6: Review


    Modified by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger from Non-Renewable Energy Sources from Environmental Biology by Matthew R. Fisher (licensed under CC-BY)

    This page titled 17: Nuclear Energy is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

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