Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

17.6: Review

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)


    After completing this chapter you should be able to...

    • Define isotopes and radioactive isotopes. 
    • Explain how half-life measure the rate of radioactive decay. 
    • Explain how nuclear fission reactions can be induced to generate electricity. 
    • Outline the nuclear fuel cycle. 
    • Describe the structure and functioning of a nuclear reactor, distinguishing between pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors.
    • Detail the percentage that nuclear power contributes to electricity and total energy consumption globally and in the United States.
    • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy.

    Isotopes are atoms of the same element that differ in neutron number. Some isotopes are radioactive, meaning that they are unstable and emit radiation in the form of particles and energy. The speed of this radioactive decay is measured in half-lives. A nuclear fission reaction is the splitting of an atom nucleus. Nuclear fission of uranium-235 can be induced by neutrons, and this is the basis of nuclear power.

    The nuclear fuel cycle describes the process of mining uranium ore, milling it into yellowcake, and enriching it to produce nuclear fuel. It also outlines proper storage and disposal of spent fuel and other waste products. 

    Nuclear fission occurs in the reactor core of a nuclear reactor. It is a chain reaction in which fission releases additional neutrons that induce fission in other atoms. Fuel rods contain nuclear fuel while control rods absorb excess neutrons to prevent an explosion or meltdown. The heat released from nuclear fission ultimately generates high-pressure steam, which turns a turbine, powering a generator. In this sense the process of nuclear electricity generation is similar to that from coal. Pressurized water reactors consist of three separate streams of water, but boiling water reactors consist of two separate streams of water. 

    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.

    Nuclear energy is beneficial in the sense that it releases few greenhouse gases or air pollutants. It is a reliable energy source, and nuclear fuel is abundant. However, nuclear power plants consume more water than any other source of energy. Power plants are expensive to build and maintain. While there have not been many nuclear accidents globally, some have been deadly, and residents still suffer from their effects. Additionally, nuclear waste continues to emit dangerous radiation, and the U.S. does not have a long-term storage facility for high-level radioactive waste.


    Melissa Ha (CC-BY-NC)


    This page titled 17.6: Review is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Melissa Ha and Rachel Schleiger (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .

    • Was this article helpful?