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What is Nuclear Energy – Definition – AEN News

nuclear energy definition

What is nuclear energy today.


Everything in the known universe consists of very tiny units called atoms.

In the center of the atom, we can find the nucleus that contains tinier particles called neutrons and protons.

These particles are bound together to form the nucleus of the atom by the nuclear force.

Nuclear Energy Definition

Nuclear energy represents the energy contained in the nucleus of the atom and is released during the nuclear reaction that takes place in the nuclear reactors.

Almost all the mass of the atom is contained in its nucleus, and the rest of the mass of the atom is contained in the electron cloud surrounding the nucleus.

The nucleus of the atom is positively charged because the neutrons have no charge, but the protons are positively charged.

The electrons orbiting the nucleus are negatively charged to balance the atom.

Nuclear energy can produce clean electricity using two different nuclear reaction: nuclear fission and nuclear fusion.

Nuclear Fission Reaction

Nuclear energy is considered one of the cleanest forms (in terms of carbon emissions) of power available today.

Nuclear fission is the nuclear reaction used today by the nuclear power plants to generate electricity, and the analysis of the carbon footprint made in 2014 by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) shows that the nuclear fission reaction releases only 12 g CO2eq/kWh.

The same analysis shows that other fossil fuels are much dirtier, coal releases 820 g CO2eq/kWh, and natural gas 490 g CO2 eq/kWh.

Nuclear fission reaction is the nuclear reaction that takes place in the nuclear power plants and uses uranium and plutonium as nuclear fuels to generate clean electricity.

Another by-product of the nuclear fission reaction is the nuclear waste resulted during the reaction, which is hazardous for the environment and for any living being.

Nuclear Fusion Reaction

Nuclear fusion reaction is the nuclear reaction that takes place in the Sun every second, and can provide us unlimited amounts of clean electricity without producing hazardous waste for the environment.

However, nuclear fusion is a very complex process, and the today’s technology needs to further evolve to ensure us a full control of the process, and a way of producing clean electricity using the nuclear fusion reaction in a sustainable way (to output more energy than the energy consumed in the process).

Nuclear fusion has the potential to produce huge amounts of clean electricity generating less nuclear waste than nuclear fission, so it is considered a main energy source of the future.

The Sun and other stars in the universe use the nuclear fusion reaction to turn matter into pure energy.

Nuclear fusion fuses together the hydrogen atoms in the Sun to form helium atoms and this way matter is turned into energy.

Hydrogen is heated at very high temperature inside the Sun and other stars and turns from the gaseous state into plasma in which the electrons (negatively charged) are separated from the atomic nuclei (ions) that are positively-charged.

The temperature increases and the ions are moving faster, reaching high speeds that will bring them close enough to each other to fuse and release energy.

There are several teams of scientists working today to develop the nuclear fusion technology, but the nuclear fusion reaction is a very advanced and complex process, which requires a technology that mankind still does not possess.

Current estimates say that the nuclear fusion reaction will start producing clean electricity by the middle of the century (by 2050).

Thorium as Nuclear Fuel

Thorium is a radioactive chemical element that is way more abundant on Earth than uranium, and which can be used as nuclear fuel during the nuclear fission reaction.

Thorium is superior to uranium as a nuclear fuel due to its abundance, and due to its superior physical and nuclear properties.

A group of scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology stated that thorium is a cleaner alternative to uranium and can provide (due to its abundance) a better future for humanity in terms of energy production and environmental protection and also more security against nuclear disasters.

Nuclear energy has a great potential to produce unlimited amounts of clean electricity, but we need to master the nuclear fusion reaction in order to ditch the polluting fossil fuels and move forward towards a cleaner future.

Is Nuclear Energy a Renewable Energy Source?

Nuclear energy or nuclear power is not considered today a renewable energy source because the nuclear fuel used during the nuclear fission reaction is a finite resource (uranium, plutonium and thorium are finite resources).

However, nuclear energy can become a renewable energy source only if humanity will manage to master the nuclear fusion reaction and will use hydrogen or another element that is very abundant on the planet and in the universe as nuclear fuel.

How Does a Nuclear Reactor Work?

In the today’s nuclear reactors clean electricity is produced using the nuclear fission reaction.

This type of nuclear reaction uses a constant bombardment of neutrons that makes the uranium atoms break apart.

As the uranium atoms break apart, they will release fission products (tiny particles) that will cause other uranium atoms to break apart and start a chain reaction.

The energy released by the nuclear fission reaction creates heat that is used to warm a cooling agent (usually water).

The heated cooling agent will produce steam that will spin a turbine.

The spinning turbine will drive generators or engines to produce clean electricity.

Nuclear energy has the potential to generate huge amounts of electricity without releasing greenhouse gases, but we need to discover a nuclear fuel that produces less radioactive waste.

In the today’s nuclear reactors the nuclear waste (used uranium pellets) is produced during the nuclear fission reaction and needs to be disposed according to governmental regulations in order to avoid any radioactive contamination.

Radioactive waste can be very hazardous for the environment because is very toxic and stays radioactive for thousands of years.

However, nuclear power along with the other forms of clean energy will become the main energy sources used on the planet to cover the power demand.

As technology evolves, mankind will use greener nuclear fuels to unleash the true power of the atom for a bright and clean future of mankind.

Danny Ovy

Danny Ovy

I am a writer and reporter for the clean energy sector, I cover climate change issues, new clean technologies, sustainability and green cars.

Danny Ovy
Danny Ovy

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