What Is Nuclear Power?


Quick Answer

Nuclear power is the production of energy derived from controlled, induced nuclear reactions. These reactions generally create heat that is then collected and used to run steam turbines that produce electricity. The most common element associated with the production of nuclear power is uranium.

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What Is Nuclear Power?
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Full Answer

Scientists compare atoms to miniature solar systems with centers, or nuclei, composed of protons and neutrons massed tightly together. Because the energy binding the nucleus together is so strong, among the strongest forces in all of nature, scientists attempt to harvest power by breaking that bond and repurposing it through a process called fission. Uranium is ideal for this process because its nucleus is particularly large, and its attractive bond is weaker than in many other elements.

Nuclear power plants intentionally drive neutrons into uranium atoms in order to split them. As the uranium atom splits, it releases neutrons that then split further atoms, which then release their own neutrons, and so on, prompting a chain reaction. However, this reaction is regulated by control rods, mechanisms responsible for absorbing many of the neutrons. These collected neutrons are then mobilized to heat water reservoirs located in the power plant's nuclear reactor, powering turbines linked to generators that finally create the electricity.

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