Nuclear energy is energy in the core of an atom. Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions, usually nuclear fission, to produce electricity. In nuclear fission, a neutron collides with a uranium atom and splits it, releasing heat and energy. This heat is typically used to then steam turbines to produce electricity.
All nuclear power plants use nuclear fission and most nuclear power plants use uranium atoms. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fusion and nuclear decay as well.
In 2018, nuclear power supplied 2,563 terawatt-hours of electricity, comprising about 10% of total global electricity generation. Nuclear power is the second-largest low-carbon power source in the world after hydroelectricity.
Nuclear Power Debate
A common debate about nuclear power is its safety or lack thereof. Those in support of nuclear power, such as the World Nuclear Association, believe that nuclear power is a safe and sustainable energy source. Those who oppose the use of nuclear power, such as Greenpeace, argue that uncle power poses a threat to both the environment and people’s health.
Nuclear power has one of the lowest levels of fatalities per unit of energy generated. Hydroelectricity, coal, natural gas, and petroleum have all caused more fatalities per unit of energy due to air pollution and accidents. A study on the prevented mortality and greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear power stated that nuclear power has prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and the emissions of 64 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent since its commercialization in the 1970s.
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union is the worst nuclear disaster in history and is commonly used as an example against the use of nuclear power. The event killed two power plant workers and released high levels of radiation into the surrounding area, causing tens of thousands of people to evacuate the surrounding areas and causing several suspecting radiation-related medical problems, such as cancer.
Nuclear Power Around the World
According to the World Nuclear Association, there are about 439 operable nuclear reactors in the world, with a combined power of 389.5 gigawatts (GW), and 56 are currently under construction, which will add 63.7 gigawatts.
Currently, the United States has the most nuclear power reactors in the world, at 96 total, generating over 800 terawatts of zero-emissions electricity per year. The reactors operate at full power over 92% of the time and have generated about one-fifth of the U.S.’s energy since the mid-1990s.
France gets the largest share of nuclear power, which accounts for about 70.6% of the country’s total electricity. France Laos has the second-largest nuclear power production in the world of 384.2 gigawatts.
Below are the ten countries with the largest nuclear power production in 2019: