Earth Science

Natural Resources

Nuclear Power

Study Tip
Nuclear fusion, or the conjoining of two nuclei, can also harness a great deal of energy and is considered another form of nuclear power.

Nuclear Energy

  • When the nucleus of an atom is split, it releases a huge amount of energy called nuclear energy
  • Scientists and engineers have learned to split nuclei and to control the release of energy
Study Tip
Nuclear fusion, or the conjoining of two nuclei, can also harness a great deal of energy and is considered another form of nuclear power.
Study Tip
The same way a person may cast a shadow over another person when they stand under the sun, planets or celestial bodies that have aligned themselves cast shadows over one another as well.
  • Nuclear Energy Use
  • Nuclear power plants use uranium, which is mined, processed, and then concentrated into fuel rods
  • When uranium atoms in the fuel rods are hit by other extremely tiny particles, they split apart
  • The number of tiny particles allowed to hit the fuel rods needs to be controlled, or they would cause a dangerous explosion
  • The energy from a nuclear power plant heats water, which creates steam and causes a turbine to spin
  • The spinning turbine turns a generator, which in turn produces electricity
  • Consequences of Nuclear Power: Nuclear power is clean and does not pollute the air, but the use of nuclear energy does create other environmental problems
  • Process of splitting atoms creates radioactive waste, which remains dangerous for thousands or hundreds of thousands of years
  • As yet, there is no long-term solution for storing this waste
  • The development of nuclear power plants has been on hold for three decades because of catastrophic accidents (e.g. Three Mile Island and Chernobyl)
  • Nuclear power appeared to be making a comeback as society looked for alternatives to fossil fuels
  • However, the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan may have resulted in a new fear of nuclear power
  • Nuclear power is a controversial subject and the future of nuclear power is murky
Study Tip
The same way a person may cast a shadow over another person when they stand under the sun, planets or celestial bodies that have aligned themselves cast shadows over one another as well.
Diagram of Uranium releases energy
When struck by a tiny particle, Uranium-235
breaks apart and releases energy.
Nuclear power plants
Nuclear power plants like this one provide France with almost 80% of its electricity.
Concept Check
  • How is nuclear energy generated?
  • Since the waste from nuclear power plants is dangerous for up to hundreds of thousands of years, how do you think it should be safeguarded?
  • Do you think that the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 should affect how nations develop or choose not to develop their nuclear resources? What about nations that are not near a subduction zone?