Nuclear power is the controlled use of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is energy in 'fissionable' elements like uranium that can be released by nuclear reactions in a machine called a nuclear reactor. This energy is made into electricity, which then can be used to power machines and heat homes. In 2007, 14% of the world's electricity came from nuclear power. Nuclear power plants also make radioactive waste that could be harmful if it is not stored properly. Nuclear power plants produce less radioactive material than a coal fired power station.
People have also been studying since the middle 20th century to use fusion power. This kind of nuclear power doesn't work yet.
Enrico Fermi made the first nuclear reactor in 1941. Many reactors were built in the U.S. during World War II during the Manhattan Project. In 1954 the first nuclear power plant started in Obninsk near Moscow. Most nuclear power plants in the U.S. were built during the 1960s and 1970s. Nuclear reactors also power some large military ships and submarines.
Some serious nuclear accidents have occurred. A scale was made to measure how dangerous accidents are. It is called the International Nuclear Event Scale. The scale has 8 levels (0-7), and 7 is the worst.
- Chernobyl disaster, happened in 1986; classified at level 7.
- Fukushima nuclear disaster, happened in 2011, level 7.
- Mayak accident; happened in 1957. The amount of radiation released and the general danger was higher than that of Chernobyl. The affected area was smaller though. For these reasons the accident is only classified as level 6.
- Windscale fire in 1957 and Three Mile Island accident in 1979, at level 5.
- Tokaimura nuclear accident at level 4
Nuclear-powered submarine mishaps include the Soviet submarine K-19 reactor accident (1961), the Soviet submarine K-27 reactor accident (1968), and the Soviet submarine K-431 reactor accident (1985).
The economics of nuclear power is challenging, and following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, costs are likely to go up for currently operating and new nuclear power plants, due to increased requirements for on-site spent fuel management and elevated design basis threats.
There is a debate about the use of nuclear power. Supporters, such as the World Nuclear Association and IAEA, argue that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions. Additionally, it does not contribute to smog or acid rain. Anti-nuclear opponents, such as Greenpeace International and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, believe that nuclear power poses threats to people and the environment.
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In 2007, nuclear power plants made some 2600 TWh of electricity and provided 14 percent of the electricity used in the world, which represented a fall of 2 per cent compared with 2006. As of May 9, 2010, there were 438 (372 GW) nuclear reactors operating globally. A peak was reached in 2002 when there were 444 nuclear reactors operating.
The nuclear emergencies at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear facilities raised questions about the future of nuclear power. Platts has said that "the crisis at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plants has prompted leading energy-consuming countries to review the safety of their existing reactors and cast doubt on the speed and scale of planned expansions around the world". Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the International Energy Agency halved its estimate of additional nuclear generating capacity to be built by 2035.
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