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Nuclear power

Nuclear power plant. The cooling towers are on the left, and the reactor is inside the domed building on the right. Nuclear energy is the energy contained by an atom, due to the strong force that holds together the protons and neutrons in its nucleus. There are two ways of releasing nuclear energy: nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. They are both forms of nuclear reaction. A nuclear power station produces energy by nuclear fission. A reaction is created in the nuclei (cores) of uranium atoms. Inside the reactor, neutrons are made to collide with other nuclei, causing them to split (nuclear fission) and release more neutrons. This repeated process, called a chain reaction, produces immense amounts of heat energy. The energy heats water, making steam that drives turbines.

Nuclear fission. The black balls represent neutrons, the red balls protons.

Nuclear fission

Matter can be converted into energy and energy can be changed into matter. This conversion is used in nuclear power stations. A nuclear particle called a neutron smashes into the nucleus of a uranium atom (1). The nucleus breaks into two parts (2). This releases large amounts of heat and other energy and also two more fast-moving neutrons (3). These smash into more uranium nuclei and so on in what is called a chain reaction (4). Splitting of nuclei is known as nuclear fission. During the process bits of matter cease to exist and become vast quantities of energy instead.

Around 6% of the world’s energy and 14% of the world’s electricity is produced by nuclear power.


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