Energy nation

Nuclear

Status: Non-renewable

What is it?

Nuclear power is generated by splitting uranium atoms into lighter elements. Neutrons are fired at them to do this. This process is called nuclear fission. As the atoms split, they release more neutrons and these split more uranium atoms and so on. This is a chain reaction. It produces lots of heat energy.

How is it used to generate electricity?

The heat produced by nuclear fission is used to heat water. This produces steam which pushes against the blades of turbines causing them to spin. The turbines are connected to generators, which create electricity. The steam generated in modern nuclear power stations is lower pressure than coal and oil stations.

Where can you find uranium?

Several places across the world. Canada is the largest exporter, but Australia has the most uranium.

Advantages and disadvantages of using nuclear power to generate electricity

Advantages

  • Uranium is readily and cheaply available, and nuclear fuel is easily stored
  • A small amount of nuclear fuel produces a lot of electricity
  • Nuclear power stations do not produce any carbon dioxide from nuclear fission

Disadvantages

  • Nuclear power stations may be unpopular with people who are concerned about how safe they are
  • Nuclear energy is not renewable. When uranium runs out it cannot be replaced
  • Nuclear energy produces radioactive waste which must be buried in sealed containers for a long time
  • Nuclear power stations cannot be switched on and off easily

How many stations are there in the UK?

11.

The future?

All but one of the UK’s existing nuclear reactors will be shut down by 2023.