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What is nuclear power?
Nuclear power is a form of energy that's produced from splitting a uranium atom. These atoms are split when they collide with a neutron. This split is called fission. It generates heat, which is used to produce electricity.
How is nuclear power produced?
When an atom is split, it releases neutrons (small sub-atomic particles). These hit other atoms. This split releases energy in the form of heat. The heat is then used to boil water. The hot water creates steam and the steam drives turbines, which then creates electricity. So, nuclear plants create electricity by boiling water which creates steam to turn turbines.
Producing Nuclear Power
Where do companies get the uranium that makes nuclear
Uranium ore is mined around the world. The ore is put through a process called milling, resulting in a product called uranium oxide concentrate (U3O8). This is the form in which uranium is sold.
Most nuclear reactors use uranium. The most common form of this is Uranium U 238, which first has to be enriched before use in a nuclear reactor.
The following countries have uranium resources – Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia are the main suppliers of uranium to world markets, followed by Russia, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Niger, USA, China, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and India.
If most reactors use uranium, how is plutonium connected to
Plutonium is considered a ‘man-made’ by-product of the process in a reactor. About one one third of the energy produced in most nuclear power plants comes from plutonium. Plutonium is also a key element to making nuclear weapons.
How exactly is plutonium made?
We already mentioned that when a uranium atom is split, it releases neutrons. Some of these neutrons released by the fission process (the splitting process) convert uranium-238 nuclei (one nucleus, many nuclei) into plutonium. That is why plutonium is a by-product of the nuclear fission process that happens in a nuclear reactor.
Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons
How does nuclear power differ from nuclear weapons?
The two are made using the same process – mining for uranium and enriching the ore so that it can be used in a nuclear reactor.
The only difference between nuclear power and nuclear weapons is the concentration of the various isotopes used in the fuel. It is up to the people controlling the process whether the fuel is used to create bombs or to generate electricity.
Each year a typical 1000 mega-watt (MW) commercial power reactor will produce 300 to 500 pounds of plutonium -- enough to build between 25 - 40 Nagasaki-sized atomic bombs.
Nuclear Power and the Environment
A lot of people say that, compared to coal power, nuclear energy is better for the environment. Is that true?
The nuclear industry often claims that because nuclear energy generates fewer carbon emissions than coal power, it's a vital energy source in preventing climate change.
The problem is that nuclear power plants are very expensive and they are very slow to build -- meaning they can't deliver the carbon savings we need right now at a price we can actually afford. It also means money spent on nuclear reactors isn't spent on truely green energy sources like wind and solar power.
Nuclear power could only make a negligible contribution to emission reductions at best. Even if the entire global fleet of reactors was quadrupled, this would lead to 6% reduction in global CO2 emissions at most: far short of what we need to stop climate change.
Nuclear Power and the Economy
Greenpeace on Nuclear Power
What is Greenpeace Africa doing to stop new nuclear power
plants being built in South Africa?
The South African government announced in 2011 that it plans to build 6 new nuclear reactors. Greenpeace Africa will be campaigning to stop this and will urge the government to rethink its energy sources in the country. Nuclear is just too expensive, will take too long to build and will add to the nuclear waste piling up in the country.
We will also have various activities throughout the year to increase awareness on the debates surrounding nuclear energy. Become a member/volunteer and find out how you can get involved.
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