Nuclear energy is unlike energy derived from fossil fuels in that it involves changing materials at the atomic level.
There are 2 processes involved in the production of nuclear energy. They are: - Nuclear fission (the splitting of a large atom of one element into smaller atoms of different elements). - Nuclear fusion (the uniting of two small atoms to form a larger atom of a different element).
Nuclear fuel is created by the conversion of mass to energy.
Uranium is the primary mineral used in nuclear energy production. There are 2 isotopes or forms commonly used: - uranium-238 - uranium-235
These isotopes of uranium undergo nuclear fission, breaking into smaller atoms while releasing energy. Nuclear fuel production involves constantly doing this via a chain reaction. A chain reaction occurs when unstable isotopes collide continuously, breaking down into smaller particles via nuclear fission.
Nuclear reactors are structures at nuclear power plants that can withstand a continuous chain reaction.
Nuclear fuel production has some advantages over coal production.
If nuclear power replaced coal to provide electricity, it would have some advantages such as: - less fuel needed (1 pound of uranium releases the same amount of energy as 50 tons of coal) - lower carbon dioxide emissions (coal plants release 7 million tons into the air while nuclear has none directly, though some is produced during the mining of uranium) - no acid-forming pollutants like sulfur dioxide (coal plants emit more than 300,000 tons of sulfur dioxide while nuclear plants do not emit any sulfur dioxides at all) - less radioactive waste gases (coal plants release 100 times more radioactivity than nuclear power plants) - less solid wastes (coal plants produce 600,000 tons of ash that has to be disposed of compared to nuclear plants that produce 250 tons) - fewer accidents (coal plants have frequent accidents and ongoing reports of healthcare concerns adding up to $1 billion in annual costs)