Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear
energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam
turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant. As a nuclear
technology, nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission,
nuclear decay and nuclear fusion reactions.
Presently, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is
produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium.
Nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as
radioisotope thermoelectric generators.
Generating electricity from fusion power remains at the focus of
This article mostly deals with nuclear fission power for electricity
Civilian nuclear power supplied 2,488 terawatt hours (TWh) of
electricity in 2017, equivalent to about 10% of global electricity
generation, and was the second largest low-carbon
power source after hydroelectricity. As of April
2018, there are 449 civilian fission reactors in the world, with a
combined electrical capacity of 394 gigawatt (GW).
As of 2018, there are 58 power reactors under construction and 154
reactors planned, with a combined capacity of 63 GW and 157 GW,
respectively. As of January 2019, 337 more reactors were
Most reactors under construction are generation III reactors in
Since its commercialization in the 1970s, nuclear power has prevented
about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and the emission of
about 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that would have
otherwise resulted from the burning of fossil fuels.
There is a debate about nuclear power.
Proponents, such as the
World Nuclear Association and
Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, contend that nuclear power is a
safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions.
Opponents, such as
Greenpeace and NIRS, contend that nuclear power
poses many threats to people and the environment.
Accidents in nuclear power plants include the
Chernobyl disaster in
the Soviet Union in 1986, the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in
Japan in 2011, and the more contained
Three Mile Island accident
Three Mile Island accident in
the United States in 1979.
There have also been some nuclear submarine accidents.
Nuclear reactors have caused the lowest number of fatalities per unit
of energy generated when compared to fossil fuels and hydropower.
Coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydroelectricity each have caused a
greater number of fatalities per unit of energy, due to air pollution
Collaboration on research and development towards greater efficiency,
safety and recycling of spent fuel in future generation IV reactors
Euratom and the co-operation of more than 10
permanent member countries globally.
1.2 First nuclear reactor
1.3 Early years
1.4 Development and early opposition to nuclear power
1.5 Regulations, pricing and accidents
1.6 Nuclear renaissance
1.7 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
2.1 Extending plant lifetimes
Nuclear power station
Life cycle of nuclear fuel
4.1 Conventional fuel resources
4.1.1 Unconventional fuel resources
4.3 Nuclear waste
4.3.1 High-level radioactive waste
4.3.2 Low-level radioactive waste
4.3.3 Waste relative to other types
4.3.4 Waste disposal
4.5 Nuclear decommissioning
5 Installed capacity and electricity production
6 Use in space
8 Accidents, attacks and safety
8.3 Attacks and sabotage
9 Nuclear proliferation
10 Environmental impact
10.1 Carbon emissions
Renewable energy and nuclear power
12 Debate on nuclear power
13.1 Advanced fission reactor designs
13.2 Hybrid nuclear fusion-fission
13.3 Nuclear fusion
14 See also
16 Further reading
17 External links
Nuclear binding energy
Nuclear binding energy of all natural elements in the periodic
table. Higher values translate into more tightly bound nuclei and
greater nuclear stability.
Iron (Fe) is the end product of
nucleosynthesis within the core of hydrogen fusing stars. The elements
surrounding iron are the fission products of the fissionable actinides
(e.g. uranium). Except for iron, all other elemental nuclei have in
theory the potential to be nuclear fuel, and the greater distance from
iron the greater nuclear potential energy that could be released.
Nuclear fission § History, and Atomic Age
In 1932 physicist
Ernest Rutherford discovered that when lithium atoms
were "split" by protons from a proton accelerator, immense amounts of
energy were released in accordance with the principle of mass–energy
equivalence. However, he and other nuclear physics pioneers Niels Bohr
Albert Einstein believed harnessing the power of the atom for
practical purposes anytime in the near future was
The same year, his doctoral student
James Chadwick discovered the
neutron, which was immediately recognized as a potential
tool for nuclear experimentation because of its lack of an electric
charge. Experiments bombarding materials with neutrons led Frédéric
Irène Joliot-Curie to discover induced radioactivity in 1934,
which allowed the creation of radium-like elements.
Further work by
Enrico Fermi in the 1930s focused on using slow
neutrons to increase the effectiveness of induced radioactivity.
Experiments bombarding uranium with neutrons led Fermi to believe he
had created a new, transuranic element, which was dubbed
In 1938, German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann,
along with Austrian physicist Lise Meitner and Meitner's
nephew, Otto Robert Frisch, conducted experiments with the
products of neutron-bombarded uranium, as a means of further
investigating Fermi's claims.
They determined that the relatively tiny neutron split the nucleus of
the massive uranium atoms into two roughly equal pieces, contradicting
This was an extremely surprising result: all other forms of nuclear
decay involved only small changes to the mass of the nucleus, whereas
this process—dubbed "fission" as a reference to biology—involved a
complete rupture of the nucleus.
Numerous scientists, including Leó Szilárd, who was one of the
first, recognized that if fission reactions released additional
neutrons, a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction could
result. Once this was experimentally confirmed
and announced by
Frédéric Joliot-Curie in 1939, scientists in many
countries (including the United States, the United Kingdom, France,
Germany, and the Soviet Union) petitioned their governments for
support of nuclear fission research, just on the cusp of World War II,
for the development of a nuclear weapon.
First nuclear reactor
In the United States, where Fermi and Szilárd had both emigrated, the
discovery of the nuclear chain reaction led to the creation of the
first man-made reactor, the research reactor known as Chicago Pile-1,
which achieved self-sustaining power/criticality on December 2, 1942.
The reactor's development was part of the Manhattan Project, the
Allied effort to create atomic bombs during World War II. It led to
the building of larger single-purpose production reactors, such as the
X-10 Pile, for the production of weapons-grade plutonium for use in
the first nuclear weapons. The United States tested the first nuclear
weapon in July 1945, the Trinity test, with the atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki taking place one month later.
The first light bulbs ever lit by electricity generated by nuclear
EBR-1 at Argonne National Laboratory-West, December 20,
1951. As the first liquid metal cooled fast reactor, it
demonstrated Fermi's Experimental fuel Breeding Reactor principle, to
maximize the usable energy obtainable from the, initially considered,
scarce natural uranium.
In August 1945, the first widely distributed account of nuclear
energy, in the form of the pocketbook The Atomic Age, discussed the
peaceful future uses of nuclear energy and depicted a future where
fossil fuels would go unused.
Nobel laureate Glenn Seaborg, who later chaired the Atomic Energy
Commission, is quoted as saying "there will be nuclear powered
earth-to-moon shuttles, nuclear powered artificial hearts, plutonium
heated swimming pools for SCUBA divers, and much more".
In the same month, with the end of the war, Seaborg and others would
file hundreds of initially classified patents, most
Eugene Wigner and Alvin Weinberg's
Patent #2,736,696, on a
conceptual light water reactor (LWR) that would later become the
United States' primary reactor for naval propulsion and later take up
the greatest share of the commercial fission-electric
The United Kingdom, Canada, and the
USSR proceeded to
research and develop nuclear energy over the course of the late 1940s
and early 1950s.
Electricity was generated for the first time by a nuclear reactor on
December 20, 1951, at the
EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho,
which initially produced about 100 kW.
In 1953, American President
Dwight Eisenhower gave his "Atoms for
Peace" speech at the United Nations, emphasizing the need to develop
"peaceful" uses of nuclear power quickly. This was followed by the
1954 Amendments to the Atomic
Energy Act which allowed rapid
declassification of U.S. reactor technology and encouraged development
by the private sector.
The launching ceremony of the USS Nautilus January 1954. In
1958 it would become the first vessel to reach the North
The first organization to develop nuclear power was the U.S. Navy,
S1W reactor for the purpose of propelling submarines and
aircraft carriers. The first nuclear-powered submarine,
USS Nautilus, was put to sea in January
1954. The trajectory of civil reactor design
was heavily influenced by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, who with Weinberg
as a close advisor, selected the PWR/
Pressurized Water Reactor
Pressurized Water Reactor design,
in the form of a 10 MW reactor for the Nautilus, a decision that
would result in the PWR receiving a government commitment to develop,
an engineering lead that would result in a lasting impact on the
civilian electricity market in the years to come. The
United States Navy
United States Navy Nuclear Propulsion design and operation community,
under Rickover's style of attentive management retains a continuing
record of zero reactor accidents (defined as the uncontrolled release
of fission products to the environment resulting from damage to a
reactor core). with the U.S. Navy fleet of
nuclear-powered ships, standing at some 80 vessels as of
On June 27, 1954, the USSR's Obninsk Nuclear Power Plant, based on
what would become the prototype of the
RBMK reactor design, became the
world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power
grid, producing around 5 megawatts of electric power.
On July 17, 1955 the BORAX III reactor, the prototype to later Boiling
Water Reactors, became the first to generate electricity for an entire
community, the town of Arco, Idaho. A motion picture
record of the demonstration, of supplying some 2 megawatts(2 MW) of
electricity, was presented to the United Nations, Where at
the "First Geneva Conference", the world's largest gathering of
scientists and engineers, met to explore the technology in that year.
EURATOM was launched alongside the European Economic Community
(the latter is now the European Union). The same year also saw the
launch of the
International Atomic Energy Agency
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Calder Hall nuclear power station
Calder Hall nuclear power station in the United Kingdom was the
world's first commercial nuclear power station. It was connected to
the national power grid on 27 August 1956 and officially revealed in a
ceremony by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 October 1956. In common with a
number of other Generation I nuclear reactors, the plant had the dual
purpose of producing electrical power and plutonium-239, the latter
for the nascent nuclear weapons program in Britain.
Shippingport Atomic Power Station
Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, opened
in 1957 and originating from a cancelled nuclear-powered aircraft
carrier contract the
Pressurized water reactor
Pressurized water reactor design
became the first commercial reactor in the United States and the first
devoted exclusively to peacetime uses. Its early adoption,
a case of technological lock-in, and familiarity amongst
retired naval personnel, established the PWR as the predominant
civilian reactor design, that it still retains today in the US.
The world's first "commercial nuclear power station", Calder Hall at
Windscale, England, was opened in 1956 with an initial capacity of 50
MW per reactor (200 MW total), it was the
first of a fleet of dual-purpose
MAGNOX reactors, though officially
code-named PIPPA(Pressurized Pile Producing Power and Plutonium) by
UKAEA to denote the plant's dual commercial and military
The U.S. Army, nuclear power program, formally commenced in 1954.
Under its management, the 2 megawatt SM-1, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia,
was the first in the United States to supply electricity in an
industrial capacity to the commercial grid (VEPCO), in April
The first commercial nuclear station to become operational in the
United States was the 60 MW
Shippingport Reactor (Pennsylvania, in
The 3 MW
SL-1 was a U.S. Army experimental nuclear power reactor at
the National Reactor Testing Station in eastern Idaho, derived from
the Borax Boiling water reactor(BWR) design, it first achieved
operational criticality/connection to the grid in 1958. For reasons
unknown, in 1961 a technician removed a control rod about 22 inches
farther than the prescribed 4 inches. This resulted in a steam
explosion which killed the three crew members and caused a
meltdown. The event was eventually rated at 4
on the seven-level INES scale.
In service from 1963 and operated as the experimental testbed for the
Alfa-class submarine fleet, one of the two liquid metal cooled
reactors onboard the Soviet submarine K-27, underwent a Fuel
element failure accident in 1968, with the emission of gaseous fission
products into the surrounding air, producing 9 crew fatalities and 83
Development and early opposition to nuclear power
Number of generating and under construction civilian
fission-electric reactors, over the period 1960 to 2015.
Generation II reactor
Generation II reactor and United States Atomic Energy
Commission § Public opinion and abolishment of the AEC
PWR: 277 (63.2%)
BWR: 80 (18.3%)
GCR: 15 (3.4%)
PHWR: 49 (11.2%)
LWGR: 15 (3.4%)
FBR: 2 (0.5%)
Number of electricity generating civilian reactors by type (end 2014):
Water Reactors, 80 Boiling
Water Reactors, 15 Gas
Cooled Reactors, 49 Pressurized Heavy
Water Reactors (CANDU), 15 LWGR
(RBMK), and 2 Fast Breeder Reactors.
The total global installed nuclear capacity initially rose relatively
quickly, rising from less than 1 gigawatt (GW) in 1960 to 100 GW in
the late 1970s, and 300 GW in the late 1980s. Since the late 1980s
worldwide capacity has risen much more slowly, reaching 366 GW in
2005. Between around 1970 and 1990, more than 50 GW of capacity was
under construction (peaking at over 150 GW in the late 1970s and early
1980s)—in 2005, around 25 GW of new capacity was planned. More than
two-thirds of all nuclear plants ordered after January 1970 were
eventually cancelled. A total of 63 nuclear units were
canceled in the United States between 1975 and 1980.
In 1972 Alvin Weinberg, co-inventor of the light water reactor design
(the most common nuclear reactors today) was fired from his job at Oak
Ridge National Laboratory by the Nixon administration, "at least in
part" over his raising of concerns about the safety and wisdom of ever
larger scaling-up of his design, especially above a power rating of
~500 MWe, as in a loss of coolant accident scenario, the decay heat
generated from such large compact solid-fuel cores was thought to be
beyond the capabilities of passive/natural convection cooling to
prevent a rapid fuel rod melt-down and resulting in then, potential
far reaching fission product pluming. While considering the LWR, well
suited at sea for the submarine and naval fleet, Weinberg did not show
complete support for its use by utilities on land at the power output
that they were interested in for supply scale reasons, and would
request for a greater share of AEC research funding to evolve his
team's demonstrated, Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment, a
design with greater inherent safety in this scenario and with that an
envisioned greater economic growth potential in the market of
large-scale civilian electricity
Similar to the earlier BORAX reactor safety experiments, conducted by
Argonne National Laboratory, in 1976 Idaho National
Laboratory began a test program focused on
LWR reactors under various
accident scenarios, with the aim of understanding the event
progression and mitigating steps necessary to respond to a failure of
one or more of the disparate systems, with much of the redundant
back-up safety equipment and nuclear regulations drawing from these
series of destructive testing investigations.
During the 1970s and 1980s rising economic costs (related to extended
construction times largely due to regulatory changes and
pressure-group litigation) and falling fossil fuel prices
made nuclear power plants then under construction less attractive. In
the 1980s in the U.S. and 1990s in Europe, the flat electric grid
growth and electricity liberalization also made the addition of large
new baseload energy generators economically unattractive.
Electricity production in France, previously dominated by fossil
fuels, has been dominated by nuclear power since the early 1980s, and
a large portion of that power is exported to neighboring countries.
thermofossil hydroelectric nuclear
1973 oil crisis
1973 oil crisis had a significant effect on countries, such as
France and Japan, which had relied more heavily on oil for electric
generation (39% and 73% respectively) to invest in nuclear
The French plan, known as the Messmer plan, was for the complete
independence from oil, with an envisaged construction of 80 reactors
by 1985 and 170 by 2000.
France would construct 25 fission-electric stations, installing 56
mostly PWR design reactors over the next 15 years, though foregoing
the 100 reactors initially charted in 1973, for the
1990s. In 2017, 72% of French electricity was
generated by 58 reactors, the highest percentage by any nation in the
Some local opposition to nuclear power emerged in the U.S. in the
early 1960s, beginning with the proposed
Bodega Bay station in
California, in 1958, which produced conflict with local citizens and
by 1964 the concept was ultimately abandoned. In the late
1960s some members of the scientific community began to express
pointed concerns. These anti-nuclear concerns related to
nuclear accidents, nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and
radioactive waste disposal. In the early 1970s, there were
large protests about a proposed nuclear power plant in Wyhl, Germany.
The project was cancelled in 1975 the anti-nuclear success at Wyhl
inspired opposition to nuclear power in other parts of Europe and
North America. By the mid-1970s anti-nuclear
activism gained a wider appeal and influence, and nuclear power began
to become an issue of major public protest. In
some countries, the nuclear power conflict "reached an intensity
unprecedented in the history of technology
controversies". In May 1979, an
estimated 70,000 people, including then governor of California Jerry
Brown, attended a march against nuclear power in Washington,
Anti-nuclear power groups emerged in every country
that had a nuclear power programme.
Globally during the 1980s one new nuclear reactor started up every
17 days on average.
Regulations, pricing and accidents
A simplified diagram of the major differences between light water
reactors (LWR) and the
RBMK design used in Chernobyl. The
water as moderator, and this category includes the two most common
types of nuclear reactors today, the pressurized water reactor and the
boiling water reactor. 1. In "red", the use of a graphite moderator in
a water cooled reactor. 2. A positive steam void coefficient that made
the power excursion possible, which blew the reactor vessel. 3. The
control rods were very slow, taking 18–20 seconds to be deployed.
With the control rods having graphite tips that moderated and
therefore increased the fission rate in the beginning of the rod
insertion. 4. No reinforced containment
Starting in the early 1970s in the U.S. and occurring within a
atmosphere of increased public hostility, involving the public
opposition to the AEC and the eventual founding of its replacement,
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, both had attempted to respond to
public opinion by lengthening the license procurement process,
tightening engineering regulations and increasing the requirements for
safety equipment in what is considered the beginning of the
regulatory-ratcheting phase of commercial
development. Together with relatively minor
percentage increases in the total quantity of steel, piping, cabling
and concrete per unit of installed nameplate capacity, the more
notable changes to the regulatory open public hearing-response cycle
for the granting of construction licenses, had the effect of what was
once an initial 16 months for project initiation to the pouring of
first concrete in 1967, escalating to 32 months in 1972 and finally 54
months in 1980, which ultimately, quadrupled the price of power
Utility proposals in the U.S for nuclear generating stations, peaked
at 52 in 1974, fell to 12 in 1976 and have never
recovered, in large part due to the pressure-group
litigation strategy, of launching lawsuits against each proposed U.S
construction proposal, keeping private utilities tied up in court for
years, one of which having reached the supreme court in
1978. With permission to build a nuclear station in the
U.S. eventually taking longer than in any other industrial country,
the spectre facing utilities of having to pay interest on large
construction loans while the anti-nuclear movement used the legal
system to produce delays, increasingly made the viablity of financing
construction, less certain. By the close of the 1970s it
became clear that nuclear power would not grow nearly as dramatically
as once believed.
Over 120 reactor proposals in the United States were ultimately
cancelled and the construction of new reactors ground to a
halt. A cover story in the February 11, 1985, issue of
commented on the overall failure of the U.S. nuclear power program,
saying it "ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business
According to some commentators, the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island
(TMI) played a major part in the reduction in the number of new plant
constructions in many other countries. According to the
NRC, TMI was the most serious accident in "U.S. commercial nuclear
power plant operating history, even though it led to no deaths or
injuries to plant workers or members of the nearby
community." The regulatory uncertainty and delays
eventually resulted in an escalation of construction related debt that
led to the bankruptcy of Seabrook's major utility owner, Public
Service Company of New Hampshire. At the time, the fourth
largest bankruptcy in United States corporate history.
Amongst US engineers, the cost increases from implementing the
regulatory changes that resulted from the TMI accident were, when
eventually finalized, only a few percent of total construction costs
for new reactors, primarily relating to the prevention of safety
systems from being turned off. With the most significant engineering
result of the TMI accident, the recognition that better operator
training was needed and that the existing emergency core cooling
system of PWRs worked better in a real-world emergency than members of
the anti-nuclear movement had routinely
The abandoned town of Pripyat since 1986, with the Chernobyl plant
Chernobyl New Safe Confinement
Chernobyl New Safe Confinement arch in the distance, prior to
it moving into place and retaining the hazardous dust generated during
the disassembly process, on site.
The already slowing rate of new construction along with the shutdown
in the 1980s of two existing demonstration nuclear power stations in
the Tennessee Valley, US, when they couldn’t economically meet the
NRC's new tightened standards, shifted electricity generation to
coal-fired power plants. In 1977, following the first oil
shock, U.S. President
Jimmy Carter made a speech calling the energy
crisis the "moral equivalent of war" and prominently supporting
nuclear power. However, nuclear power could not compete with cheap
oil and gas, particularly after public opposition and regulatory
hurdles made new nuclear prohibitively expensive.
In 2006 The Brookings Institution, a public policy organization,
stated that new nuclear units had not been built in the United States
because of soft demand for electricity, the potential cost overruns on
nuclear reactors due to regulatory issues and resulting construction
In 1982, amongst a backdrop of ongoing protests directed at the
construction of the first commercial scale breeder reactor in France,
a later member of the Swiss Green Party fired five RPG-7
rocket-propelled grenades at the still under construction containment
building of the
Superphenix reactor. Two grenades hit and caused minor
damage to the reinforced concrete outer shell. It was the first time
protests reached such heights. After examination of the superficial
damage, the prototype fast breeder reactor started and operated for
over a decade.
According to some commentators, the 1986
Chernobyl disaster played a
major part in the reduction in the number of new plant constructions
in many other countries:
Three Mile Island accident
Three Mile Island accident the much more serious Chernobyl
accident did not increase regulations or engineering changes affecting
Western reactors; because the
RBMK design, which lacks safety features
such as "robust" containment buildings, was only used in the Soviet
Union. Over 10
RBMK reactors are still in use today.
However, changes were made in both the
RBMK reactors themselves (use
of a safer enrichment of uranium) and in the control system
(preventing safety systems being disabled), amongst other things, to
reduce the possibility of a similar accident. Russia now
largely relies upon, builds and exports a variant of the PWR, the
VVER, with over 20 in use today.
An international organization to promote safety awareness and the
professional development of operators in nuclear facilities, the World
Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), was created as a direct
outcome of the 1986 Chernobyl accident. The organization was created
with the intent to share and grow the adoption of nuclear safety
culture, technology and community, where before there was an
atmosphere of cold war secrecy.
Numerous countries, including Austria (1978), Sweden (1980) and Italy
(1987) (influenced by Chernobyl) have voted in referendums to oppose
or phase out nuclear power.
Olkiluoto 3 under construction in 2009. It was the first EPR, a
modernized PWR design with a core catcher, to start construction but
problems with workmanship and supervision have created costly delays
which led to an inquiry by the Finnish nuclear regulator
STUK. Allowing the later started Taishan Nuclear EPR
project to reach first connection to a national grid, in 2018. In
December 2012, Areva estimated that the full cost of Olkiluoto will be
about €8.5 billion, or almost three times the original delivery
price of €3 billion and it will not be connected to the grid until
Nuclear power generation (TWh)
Operational nuclear reactors
Main article: Nuclear renaissance
In the early 2000s, the nuclear industry was expecting a nuclear
renaissance, an increase in the construction of new reactors, due to
concerns about carbon dioxide emissions. However, in
2009, Petteri Tiippana, the director of STUK's nuclear power plant
division, told the
BBC that it was difficult to deliver a Generation
III reactor project on schedule because builders were not used to
working to the exacting standards required on nuclear construction
sites, since so few new reactors had been built in recent
In 2018 the
Energy Initiative study on the future of nuclear
energy concluded that, together with the strong suggestion that
government should financially support development and demonstration of
Generation IV nuclear technologies, for a worldwide renaissance to
commence, a global standardization of regulations needs to take place,
with a move towards serial manufacturing of standardized units akin to
the other complex engineering field of aircraft and aviation. At
present it is common for each country to demand bespoke changes to the
design to satisfy varying national regulatory bodies, often to the
benefit of domestic engineering supply firms. The report goes on to
note that the most cost-effective projects have been built with
multiple (up to six) reactors per site using a standardized design,
with the same component suppliers and construction crews working on
each unit, in a continuous work flow.
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
Main article: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster
See also: Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Following the Tōhoku earthquake on 11 March 2011, one of the largest
earthquakes ever recorded, and a subsequent tsunami off the coast of
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered three core
meltdowns due to failure of the emergency cooling system for lack of
electricity supply. This resulted in the most serious nuclear accident
since the Chernobyl disaster.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident prompted a re-examination of
nuclear safety and nuclear energy policy in many
countries and raised questions among some commentators
over the future of the renaissance.
Germany approved plans to close all its reactors by 2022. Italian
nuclear energy plans ended when Italy banned the
generation, but not consumption of, nuclear electricity in a June 2011
China, Switzerland, Israel, Malaysia, Thailand, United Kingdom, and
the Philippines reviewed their nuclear power
In 2011 the
International Energy Agency
International Energy Agency halved its prior estimate of
new generating capacity to be built by 2035.
Nuclear power generation had the biggest ever fall year-on-year in
2012, with nuclear power plants globally producing 2,346
electricity, a drop of 7% from 2011.
This was caused primarily by the majority of Japanese reactors
remaining offline that year and the permanent closure of eight
reactors in Germany.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster § Equipment,
facility, and operational changes
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident sparked controversy about the
importance of the accident and its effect on nuclear's future.
The crisis prompted countries with nuclear power to review the safety
of their reactor fleet and reconsider the speed and scale of planned
In 2011, The Economist opined that nuclear power "looks dangerous,
unpopular, expensive and risky", and suggested a nuclear
Earth Institute Director, disagreed claiming combating
climate change would require an expansion of nuclear
Investment banks were also critical of nuclear soon after the
In 2011 German engineering giant
Siemens said it would withdraw
entirely from the nuclear industry in response to the Fukushima
accident. In 2017,
Siemens set the
"milestone" of supplying the first additive manufacturing part to a
nuclear power station, at the
Krško Nuclear Power Plant
Krško Nuclear Power Plant in Slovenia,
which it regards as an "industry breakthrough".
Associated Press and
Reuters reported in 2011 the suggestion that
the safety and survival of the younger Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant,
the closest reactor facility to the epicenter and on the coast,
demonstrate that it is possible for nuclear facilities to withstand
the greatest natural disasters. The Onagawa plant was also said to
show that nuclear power can retain public trust, with the surviving
residents of the town of Onagawa taking refuge in the gymnasium of the
nuclear facility following the destruction of their
IAEA inspection in 2012, the agency stated that "The
structural elements of the [Onagawa] NPS (nuclear power station) were
remarkably undamaged given the magnitude of ground motion experienced
and the duration and size of this great
In February 2012, the U.S. NRC approved the construction of 2 reactors
at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant, the first approval in 30
In August 2015, following 4 years of near zero fission-electricity
generation, Japan began restarting its nuclear reactors, after safety
upgrades were completed, beginning with Sendai Nuclear Power
By 2015, the IAEA's outlook for nuclear energy had become more
Nuclear power is a critical element in limiting greenhouse gas
emissions," the agency noted, and "the prospects for nuclear energy
remain positive in the medium to long term despite a negative impact
in some countries in the aftermath of the [Fukushima-Daiichi]
accident...it is still the second-largest source worldwide of
And the 72 reactors under construction at the start of last year were
the most in 25 years."
As of 2015 the global trend was for new nuclear power stations coming
online to be balanced by the number of old plants being
retired. Eight new grid connections were completed by
China in 2015.
Nuclear energy policy
Nuclear energy policy and Mitigation of global warming
Hanul Nuclear Power Plant
Hanul Nuclear Power Plant in South Korea, presently the second
largest in the world by output, with six operating power reactors. Two
additional indigenously designed
APR-1400 generation-III reactors are
under construction. Korea exported the APR design to the United Arab
Emirates, were four of these reactors are under construction at
Barakah nuclear power plant.
As of 2018, there are over 150 nuclear reactors planned including 50
under construction. However, while investment on upgrades
of existing plant and life-time extensions continues,
investment in new nuclear is declining, reaching a 5-year-low in 2017.
In 2016, the U.S.
Energy Information Administration projected for its
“base case” that world nuclear power generation would increase
from 2,344 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2012 to 4,500
TWh in 2040.
Most of the predicted increase was expected to be in
The future of nuclear power varies greatly between countries,
depending on government policies.
Some countries, most notably, Germany, have adopted policies of
nuclear power phase-out.
At the same time, some Asian countries, such as China and
India, have committed to rapid expansion of nuclear
Many other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the
United States, have policies in between.
Japan generated about 30% of its electricity from nuclear power before
the Fukushima accident.
In 2015 the Japanese government committed to the aim of restarting its
fleet of 40 reactors by 2030 after safety upgrades, and to finish the
construction of the Generation III Ōma Nuclear Power
This would mean that approximately 20% of electricity would come from
nuclear power by 2030.
As of 2018, some reactors have restarted commercial operation
following inspections and upgrades with new regulations.
While South Korea has a large nuclear power industry, the new
government in 2017, influenced by a vocal anti-nuclear
movement, committed to halting nuclear development after
the completion of the facilities presently under
Generation IV roadmap. Nuclear
Energy Systems Deployable no
later than 2030 and offering significant advances in sustainability,
safety and reliability, and economics.
The nuclear power industry in some western nations have a history of
construction delays, cost overruns, plant cancellations, and nuclear
safety issues, despite significant government subsidies and
These problems are related to very strict safety requirements,
uncertain regulatory environment, slow rate of construction, and large
stretches of time with no nuclear construction and consequent loss of
Commentators therefore argue that new nuclear is impractical in
western countries because of popular opposition, regulatory
uncertainty, soft demand for multiple reactor units and high
The bankruptcy of Westinghouse in March 2017 due to US$9 billion of
losses from the halting of construction at Virgil C. Summer Nuclear
Generating Station, in the U.S. is considered an advantage for eastern
companies, for the future export and design of nuclear fuel and
reactors. In 2016,
Greenpeace and the wind
Ecotricity criticized the high cost of the Hinkley
Point C nuclear power station and threatened to take action in British
or French courts or lodge a complaint with the European Commission, in
order to trigger an investigation, which they said could last as long
as a year.
The greatest new build activity is occurring in Asian countries like
South Korea, India and China.
In January 2019, China had 45 reactors in operation, 13 under
construction, and plans to build 43 more, which would make it the
world's largest generator of nuclear electricity.
Blue light from
Cherenkov radiation being produced near the core of
the Fission powered Advanced Test Reactor. A facility taking part in
the Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, to transmute certain actinides
into fuel, that would be able to be used in commercial light water
reactors, reducing a number of the security hazards of, what is all
presently considered "waste".
In 2016 the
BN-800 sodium cooled fast reactor in Russia, began
commercial electricity generation, while plans for a
initially conceived the future of the fast reactor program in Russia
awaits the results from MBIR, an under construction multi-loop
Generation IV research facility for testing the chemically more inert
lead, lead-bismuth and gas coolants, it will similarly run on recycled
MOX (mixed uranium and plutonium oxide) fuel. An on-site pyrochemical
processing, closed fuel-cycle facility, is planned, to recycle the
spent fuel/"waste" and reduce the necessity for a growth in uranium
mining and exploration. In 2017 the manufacture program for the
reactor commenced with the facility open to collaboration under the
"International Project on Innovative Nuclear Reactors and Fuel Cycle",
it has a construction schedule, that includes an operational start in
2020. As planned, it will be the world's most-powerful research
Extending plant lifetimes
As of 2019[update] the cost of extending plant lifetimes is
competitive with other electricity generation technologies, including
new solar and wind projects. In the United States, licenses
of almost half of the operating nuclear reactors have been extended to
The U.S. NRC and the U.S. Department of
Energy have initiated research
Light water reactor
Light water reactor sustainability which is hoped will lead to
allowing extensions of reactor licenses beyond 60 years, provided that
safety can be maintained, to increase energy security and preserve
low-carbon generation sources.
Research into nuclear reactors that can last 100 years, known as
Centurion Reactors, is being conducted.
Nuclear power station
Play media An animation of a
Pressurized water reactor
Pressurized water reactor in operation.
Nuclear power station
See also: List of nuclear reactors
Just as many conventional thermal power stations generate electricity
by harnessing the thermal energy released from burning fossil fuels,
nuclear power plants convert the energy released from the nucleus of
an atom via nuclear fission that takes place in a nuclear reactor.
When a neutron hits the nucleus of a uranium-235 or plutonium atom, it
can split the nucleus into two smaller nuclei. The reaction is called
nuclear fission. The fission reaction releases energy and neutrons.
The released neutrons can hit other uranium or plutonium nuclei,
causing new fission reactions, which release more energy and more
neutrons. This is called a chain reaction. The reaction rate is
controlled by control rods that absorb excess neutrons. The
controllability of nuclear reactors depends on the fact that a small
fraction of neutrons resulting from fission are delayed. The time
delay between the fission and the release of the neutrons slows down
changes in reaction rates and gives time for moving the control rods
to adjust the reaction rate.
A fission nuclear power plant is generally composed of a nuclear
reactor, in which the nuclear reactions generating heat take place; a
cooling system, which removes the heat from inside the reactor; a
steam turbine, which transforms the heat in mechanical energy; an
electric generator, which transform the mechanical energy into
Life cycle of nuclear fuel
The nuclear fuel cycle begins when uranium is mined, enriched, and
manufactured into nuclear fuel, (1) which is delivered to a nuclear
power plant. After usage in the power plant, the spent fuel is
delivered to a reprocessing plant (2) or to a final repository (3) for
geological disposition. In reprocessing 95% of spent fuel can
potentially be recycled to be returned to usage in a power plant (4).
Nuclear fuel cycle
A nuclear reactor is only part of the fuel life-cycle for nuclear
The process starts with mining (see
Uranium mines are underground, open-pit, or in-situ leach mines.
The uranium ore is extracted, usually converted into a stable and
compact form such as yellowcake, and then transported to a processing
Here, the yellowcake is converted to uranium hexafluoride, which is
then generally enriched using various techniques.
Some reactor designs can also use natural uranium without enrichment.
The enriched uranium, containing more than the natural 0.7%
uranium-235, is generally used to make rods of the proper composition
and geometry for the particular reactor that the fuel is destined for.
In modern light-water reactors the fuel rods will spend about 3
operational cycles (typically 6 years total now) inside the reactor,
generally until about 3% of their uranium has been fissioned, then
they will be moved to a spent fuel pool where the short lived isotopes
generated by fission can decay away.
After about 5 years in a spent fuel pool the spent fuel is
radioactively and thermally cool enough to handle, and can be moved to
dry storage casks or reprocessed.
Conventional fuel resources
Uranium market and
Energy development – Nuclear
Proportions of the isotopes uranium-238 (blue) and uranium-235 (red)
found in natural uranium and in enriched uranium for different
applications. Light water reactors use 3-5% enriched uranium, while
CANDU reactors work with natural uranium.
Uranium is a fairly common element in the Earth's crust: it is
approximately as common as tin or germanium, and is about
40 times more common than silver.
Uranium is present in trace concentrations in most rocks, dirt, and
ocean water, but is generally economically extracted only where it is
present in high concentrations.
As of 2011 the world's known resources of uranium, economically
recoverable at the arbitrary price ceiling of US$130/kg, were enough
to last for between 70 and 100
The OECD's red book of 2011 said that conventional uranium resources
had grown by 12.5% since 2008 due to increased exploration, with this
increase translating into greater than a century of uranium available
if the rate of use were to continue at the 2011
level.[page needed] In 2007,
the OECD estimated 670 years of economically recoverable uranium in
total conventional resources and phosphate ores assuming the
then-current use rate.
Light water reactors make relatively inefficient use of nuclear fuel,
mostly fissioning only the very rare uranium-235 isotope.
Nuclear reprocessing can make this waste reusable. Newer
generation III reactors also achieve a more efficient use of the
available resources than the generation II reactors which make up the
vast majority of reactors worldwide. With a pure fast
reactor fuel cycle with a burn up of all the
Uranium and actinides
(which presently make up the most hazardous substances in nuclear
waste), there is an estimated 160,000 years worth of
Uranium in total
conventional resources and phosphate ore at the price of 60–100
Unconventional fuel resources
Unconventional uranium resources also exist.
Uranium is naturally present in seawater at a concentration of about 3
with 4.5 billion tons of uranium considered present in seawater at any
In 2012 it was estimated that this fuel source could be extracted at
10 times the current price of uranium.
In 2014, with the advances made in the efficiency of seawater uranium
extraction, it was suggested that it would be economically competitive
to produce fuel for light water reactors from seawater if the process
was implemented at large scale.
Uranium extracted on an industrial scale from seawater would
constantly be replenished by both river erosion of rocks and the
natural process of uranium dissolved from the surface area of the
ocean floor, both of which maintain the solubility equilibria of
seawater concentration at a stable level.
Some commentators have argued that this strengthens the case for
Nuclear power to be considered a renewable energy
Breeder reactor and
Nuclear power proposed as renewable
As opposed to light water reactors which use uranium-235 (0.7% of all
natural uranium), fast breeder reactors use uranium-238 (99.3% of all
natural uranium) or thorium. A number of fuel cycles and breeder
reactor combinations are considered to be sustainable and/or renewable
sources of energy. In 2006 it was estimated
that with seawater extraction, there was likely some five billion
years' worth of uranium-238 for use in breeder reactors.
Breeder technology has been used in several reactors, but the high
cost of reprocessing fuel safely, at 2006 technological levels,
requires uranium prices of more than US$200/kg before becoming
justified economically. Breeder reactors are however
being pursued as they have the potential to burn up all of the
actinides in the present inventory of nuclear waste while also
producing power and creating additional quantities of fuel for more
reactors via the breeding process.
As of 2017, there are two breeders producing commercial power, BN-600
reactor and the
BN-800 reactor, both in Russia.
The BN-600, with a capacity of 600 MW, was built in 1980 in Beloyarsk
and is planned to produce power until 2025. The
an updated version of the BN-600, and started operation in
Phénix breeder reactor in France was powered
down in 2009 after 36 years of operation.
A nuclear fuel rod assembly bundle being inspected before entering a
Both China and India are building breeder reactors.
The Indian 500
Fast Breeder Reactor
Fast Breeder Reactor is in the
commissioning phase, with plans to build
Another alternative to fast breeders is thermal breeder reactors that
use uranium-233 bred from thorium as fission fuel in the thorium fuel
Thorium is about 3.5 times more common than
uranium in the Earth's crust, and has different geographic
characteristics. This would extend the total practical
fissionable resource base by 450%. India's three-stage
nuclear power programme features the use of a thorium fuel cycle in
the third stage, as it has abundant thorium reserves but little
See also: Sievert § Dose rate examples
The lifecycle of fuel in the present US system. If put in one place
the total inventory of spent nuclear fuel generated by the commercial
fleet of power stations in the United States, would stand 25 feet tall
and be 300 feet on a side, approximately the footprint of one football
The most important waste stream from nuclear power reactors is spent
nuclear fuel. From LWRs, it is typically composed of 95% uranium, 4%
fission products from the energy generating nuclear fission reactions,
as well as about 1% transuranic actinides (mostly reactor grade
plutonium, neptunium and americium) from unavoidable
neutron capture events. The plutonium and other transuranics are
responsible for the bulk of the long-term radioactivity, whereas the
fission products are responsible for the bulk of the short-term
High-level radioactive waste
Reactor-grade plutonium § Reuse in reactors, and List
of nuclear waste treatment technologies
Typical composition of UOx before and after approximately 3 years of
fission service in the once-thru fuel cycle of a LWR.
Thermal neutron-spectrum-reactors, which presently constitute the
majority of the world fleet, cannot burn up the reactor grade
plutonium that is generated efficiently, limiting the effective useful
fuel life to a few years at most. Reactors in Europe and Asia are
permitted to burn later refined
MOX fuel, though the burnup is
similarly not complete.
In the years outside a reactor, the activity of spent UOx fuel, in
comparison to the activity of natural uranium ore. The
various plutonium isotopes that are generated and minor actinides
constitute the primary hazard following the relatively rapid decay of
the fission products after approximately 300 years. The long lived
fission products, Tc-99 and I-129, though less radioactive than the
natural uranium ore they derived from, are the focus of
much thought on containing.
Following interim storage in a spent fuel pool, the bundles of used
fuel rod assemblies of a typical nuclear power station are often
stored on site in the likes of the eight dry cask storage vessels
pictured above. At Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station,
which generated 44 billion kilowatt hours of electricity when in
service, its complete spent fuel inventory is contained within sixteen
casks. It is commonly estimated that to produce a per
capita lifetime supply of energy at a western standard of living,
approximately 3 GWh, would require on the order of the volume of a
soda can of
Low enriched uranium
Low enriched uranium per person and thus result in a
similar volume of spent fuel
The high-level radioactive waste/spent fuel that is generated from
power production, requires treatment, management and isolation from
the environment. The technical issues in accomplishing this are
considerable, due to the extremely long periods some particularly
sublimation prone, mildly radioactive wastes, remain potentially
hazardous to living organisms, namely the long-lived fission products,
Technetium-99 (half-life 220,000 years) and
Iodine-129 (half-life 15.7
million years), which dominate the waste stream in
radioactivity after the more intensely radioactive short-lived fission
products(SLFPs) have decayed into stable elements, which
takes approximately 300 years. To successfully isolate the LLFP waste
from the biosphere, either separation and
transmutation, or some variation of a synroc
treatment and deep geological storage, is commonly
While in the US, spent fuel is presently in its entirety, federally
classified as a nuclear waste and is treated similarly,
in other countries it is largely reprocessed to produce a partially
recycled fuel, known as mixed oxide fuel or MOX. For spent fuel that
does not undergo reprocessing, the most concerning isotopes are the
medium-lived transuranic elements, which are led by reactor grade
plutonium (half-life 24,000 years).
Some proposed reactor designs, such as the American Integral Fast
Reactor and the
Molten salt reactor
Molten salt reactor can more completely use or burnup
the spent reactor grade plutonium fuel and other minor actinides,
generated from light water reactors, as under the designed fast
fission spectrum, these elements are more likely to fission and
produce the aforementioned fission products in their place. This
offers a potentially more attractive alternative to deep geological
The thorium fuel cycle results in similar fission products, though
builds up much less transuranic elements from neutron capture events
within a reactor and therefore spent thorium fuel, breeding the true
fuel of fissile U-233, is somewhat less concerning from a radiotoxic
and security standpoint.
Low-level radioactive waste
See also: Low-level waste
The nuclear industry also produces a large volume of low-level
radioactive waste in the form of contaminated items like clothing,
hand tools, water purifier resins, and (upon decommissioning) the
materials of which the reactor itself is built.
Low-level waste can be
stored on-site until radiation levels are low enough to be disposed as
ordinary waste, or it can be sent to a low-level waste disposal
Waste relative to other types
Radioactive waste § Naturally occurring radioactive
In countries with nuclear power, radioactive wastes account for less
than 1% of total industrial toxic wastes, much of which remains
hazardous for long periods. Overall, nuclear power
produces far less waste material by volume than fossil-fuel based
power plants. Coal-burning plants are particularly noted
for producing large amounts of toxic and mildly radioactive ash due to
concentrating naturally occurring metals and mildly radioactive
material in coal. A 2008 report from Oak Ridge National
Laboratory concluded that coal power actually results in more
radioactivity being released into the environment than nuclear power
operation, and that the population effective dose equivalent, or dose
to the public from radiation from coal plants is 100 times as much as
from the operation of nuclear plants.
Although coal ash is much less radioactive than spent nuclear fuel on
a weight per weight basis, coal ash is produced in much higher
quantities per unit of energy generated, and this is released directly
into the environment as fly ash, whereas nuclear plants use shielding
to protect the environment from radioactive materials, for example, in
dry cask storage vessels.
The placement of
Nuclear waste flasks, generated during US cold war
activities, underground at the WIPP facility. The facility is seen as
a potential demonstration, for later civilian generated spent fuel, or
constituents of it.
Disposal of nuclear waste is often considered the most politically
divisive aspect in the lifecycle of a nuclear power
Presently, waste is mainly stored at individual reactor sites and
there are over 430 locations around the world where radioactive
material continues to accumulate.
Some experts suggest that centralized underground repositories which
are well-managed, guarded, and monitored, would be a vast
There is an "international consensus on the advisability of storing
nuclear waste in deep geological repositories", with the
lack of movement of nuclear waste in the 2 billion year old natural
nuclear fission reactors in Oklo,
Gabon being cited as "a source of
essential information today."
Most waste packaging, small-scale experimental fuel recycling
chemistry and radiopharmaceutical refinement is conducted within
remote-handled Hot cells.
There are no commercial scale purpose built underground high-level
waste repositories in
However, in Finland the
Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository
Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository is under
construction as of 2015. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
New Mexico has been taking nuclear waste since 1999 from
production reactors, but as the name suggests is a research and
In 2014 a radiation leak caused by violations in the use of chemically
reactive packaging brought renewed attention to the need
for quality control management, along with some initial calls for more
R&D into the alternative methods of disposal for radioactive waste
and spent fuel.
In 2017, the facility was formally reopened after three years of
investigation and cleanup, with the resumption of new storage taking
place later that year.
Further information: Nuclear reprocessing
Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement
Reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel by the
PUREX method, first
developed in the 1940s to produce plutonium for nuclear
weapons, was demonstrated commercially in Belgium to
LWR in the 1960s. This aqueous chemical process
continues to be used commercially to separate reactor grade plutonium
(RGPu) for reuse as
MOX fuel. It remains controversial, as the
separated plutonium can be used to make nuclear
The most developed, though commercially unfielded, alternative
reprocessing method, is Pyroprocessing, most prominently
suggested as part of the metallic-fueled,
Integral fast reactor
Integral fast reactor (IFR)
concept proposed in the 1990s. After the spent fuel is dissolved in
molten salt, the actinides, consisting mostly of plutonium and
uranium, are extracted using electrorefining and/or electrowinning.
The resulting mixture of gamma and alpha emitting actinides is mildly
Most thermal reactors run on a once-through fuel cycle, mainly due to
the low price of fresh uranium, though many can also fuel made by
recycling the fissionable materials in spent nuclear fuel. The most
common fissionable material that is recycled is the reactor-grade
plutonium (RGPu) that is extracted from spent fuel, mixed with uranium
oxide and fabricated into mixed-oxide or
MOX fuel. The potential for
recycling the spent fuel a second time is limited by undesirable
neutron economy issues using second-generation
MOX fuel in
thermal-reactors. These issues do not affect fast reactors, which are
therefore preferred in order to achieve the full energy potential of
the original uranium. The only commercial
demonstration of triple burnup to date occurred in the
Because thermal LWRs remain the most common and economically
competitive reactor worldwide, the most common form of commercial
spent fuel recycling is to recycle the plutonium a single time as MOX
fuel, as is done in France, where it is thought to increase the
sustainability of the nuclear fuel cycle, reduce the attractiveness of
spent fuel to theft and lower the volume of high level nuclear
waste. Reprocessing of civilian fuel from power reactors
is also currently done in the United Kingdom, Russia, Japan, and
The main constituent of spent fuel from the most common light water
reactor, is uranium that is slightly more enriched than natural
uranium, which can be recycled, though there is a lower incentive to
do so. Most of this "recovered uranium", or at times
referred to as reprocessed uranium, remains in storage. It can however
be used in a fast reactor, used directly as fuel in
CANDU reactors, or
re-enriched for another cycle through an LWR. The direct use of
recovered uranium to fuel a
CANDU reactor was first demonstrated at
Quishan, China. The first re-enriched uranium reload to
fuel a commercial LWR, occurred in 1994 at the Cruas unit 4,
France. Re-enriching of reprocessed uranium
is common in France and Russia. When reprocessed uranium,
namely Uranium-236, is part of the fuel of LWRs, it generates a spent
fuel and plutonium isotope stream with greater inherent
self-protection, than the once-thru fuel
While reprocessing offers the potential recovery of up to 95% of the
remaining uranium and plutonium fuel, in spent nuclear fuel and a
reduction in long term radioactivity within the remaining waste.
Reprocessing has been politically controversial because of the
potential to contribute to nuclear proliferation and varied
perceptions of increasing the vulnerability to nuclear terrorism and
because of its higher fuel cost, compared to the once-through fuel
cycle. Similarly, while reprocessing reduces
the volume of high-level waste, it does not reduce the fission
products that are the primary residual heat generating and radioactive
substances for the first few centuries outside the reactor, thus still
requiring an almost identical container-spacing for the initial first
few hundred years, within proposed geological waste isolation
In the United States, spent nuclear fuel is currently not
reprocessed. A major recommendation of the Blue Ribbon
Commission on America's Nuclear Future was that "the United States
should undertake...one or more permanent deep geological facilities
for the safe disposal of spent fuel and high-level nuclear
The French La Hague reprocessing facility has operated commercially
since 1976 and is responsible for half the world's reprocessing as of
2010. Having produced
MOX fuel from spent fuel derived
from France, Japan, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and
the Netherlands, with the non-recyclable part of the spent fuel
eventually sent back to the user nation. More than 32,000 tonnes of
spent fuel had been reprocessed as of 2015, with the majority from
France, 17% from Germany, and 9% from Japan. Once a
source of criticism from Greenpeace, more recently the organization
have ceased attempting to criticize the facility on technical grounds,
having succeeded at performing the process without serious incidents
that have been frequent at other such facilities around the world. In
the past, the antinuclear movement argued that reprocessing would not
be technically or economically feasible.
Main article: nuclear decommissioning
The financial costs of every nuclear power plant continues for some
time after the facility has finished generating its last useful
electricity. Once no longer economically viable, nuclear reactors and
uranium enrichment facilities are generally decommissioned, returning
the facility and its parts to a safe enough level to be entrusted for
other uses, such as greenfield status.
After a cooling-off period that may last decades, reactor core
materials are dismantled and cut into small pieces to be packed in
containers for interim storage or transmutation experiments.
In the United States a
Nuclear Waste Policy Act
Nuclear Waste Policy Act and Nuclear
Decommissioning Trust Fund is legally required, with utilities banking
0.1 to 0.2 cents/kWh during operations to fund future decommissioning.
They must report regularly to the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
on the status of their decommissioning funds. About 70% of the total
estimated cost of decommissioning all U.S. nuclear power reactors has
already been collected (on the basis of the average cost of $320
million per reactor-steam turbine unit).
In the United States in 2011, there are 13 reactors that had
permanently shut down and are in some phase of
decommissioning. With Connecticut Yankee Nuclear Power
Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station
Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station having completed the
process in 2006–2007, after ceasing commercial electricity
production circa 1992.
The majority of the 15 years, was used to allow the station to
naturally cool-down on its own, which makes the manual disassembly
process both safer and cheaper.
Decommissioning at nuclear sites which have experienced a serious
accident are the most expensive and time-consuming.
Installed capacity and electricity production
Nuclear power by country
Nuclear power by country and List of nuclear
Share of electricity produced by nuclear power in the world
The status of nuclear power globally (click image for legend)
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electrical generation by source and growth from 1980 to 2010. (Brown)
– fossil fuels. (Red) – Fission. (Green) – "all renewables". In
terms of energy generated between 1980 and 2010, the contribution from
fission grew the fastest.The rate of new construction builds for
civilian fission-electric reactors essentially halted in the late
1980s, with the effects of accidents having a chilling effect.
Increased capacity factor realizations in existing reactors was
primarily responsible for the continuing increase in electrical energy
produced during this period. The halting of new builds c. 1985,
resulted in greater fossil fuel generation, see above
Electricity generation trends in the top five fission-energy
producing countries (US EIA data)
Nuclear fission power stations, excluding the contribution from naval
nuclear fission reactors, provided 11% of the world's electricity in
2012, somewhat less than that generated by hydro-electric
stations at 16%.
Since electricity accounts for about 25% of humanity's energy usage
with the majority of the rest coming from fossil fuel reliant sectors
such as transport, manufacture and home heating, nuclear fission's
contribution to the global final energy consumption was about
This is a little more than the combined global electricity production
from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal power, which together
provided 2% of global final energy consumption in 2014.
In addition, there were approximately 140 naval vessels using nuclear
propulsion in operation, powered by about 180
Nuclear power's share of global electricity production has fallen from
16.5% in 1997 to about 10% in 2017, in large part because the
economics of nuclear power have become more difficult.
Regional differences in the use of nuclear power are large.
The United States produces the most nuclear energy in the world, with
nuclear power providing 20% of the electricity it consumes, while
France produces the highest percentage of its electrical energy from
nuclear reactors—72% as of 2017.
European Union as a whole nuclear power provides 30% of the
Nuclear power is the single largest low-carbon electricity source in
the United States, and accounts for two-thirds of the
European Union's low-carbon electricity.
Nuclear energy policy
Nuclear energy policy differs among
European Union countries, and
some, such as Austria, Estonia, Ireland and Italy, have no active
nuclear power stations.
Many military and some civilian (such as some icebreakers) ships use
nuclear marine propulsion.
A few space vehicles have been launched using nuclear reactors: 33
reactors belong to the Soviet
RORSAT series and one was the American
International research is continuing into additional uses of process
heat such as hydrogen production (in support of a hydrogen economy),
for desalinating sea water, and for use in district heating
Use in space
The loading of the Plutonium-238 based MMRTG into the Mars Curiosity
rover. Assembled in a
Hot cell at Idaho National Laboratory
Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator
Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG),
used in several space missions such as the Curiosity Mars rover
Nuclear power in space
Both fission and fusion appear promising for space propulsion
applications, generating higher mission velocities with less reaction
mass. This is due to the much higher energy density of nuclear
reactions: some 7 orders of magnitude (10,000,000 times) more
energetic than the chemical reactions which power the current
generation of rockets.
Radioactive decay has been used on a relatively small scale (few kW),
mostly to power space missions and experiments by using radioisotope
thermoelectric generators such as those developed at Idaho National
Main articles: Economics of nuclear power plants, List of companies in
the nuclear sector, and cost of electricity by source
The Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, a pressurized water reactor that
cools by utilizing a secondary coolant heat exchanger with a large
body of water, an alternative cooling approach to large cooling
The economics of new nuclear power plants is a controversial subject,
since there are diverging views on this topic, and multibillion-dollar
investments depend on the choice of an energy source.
Nuclear power plants typically have high capital costs for building
the plant, but low fuel costs.
Comparison with other power generation methods is strongly dependent
on assumptions about construction timescales and capital financing for
nuclear plants as well as the future costs of fossil fuels and
renewables as well as for energy storage solutions for intermittent
On the other hand, measures to mitigate global warming, such as a
carbon tax or carbon emissions trading, may favor the economics of
Analysis of the economics of nuclear power must also take into account
who bears the risks of future uncertainties.
To date all operating nuclear power plants have been developed by
state-owned or regulated electric utility monopolies
Many countries have now liberalized the electricity market where these
risks, and the risk of cheaper competitors emerging before capital
costs are recovered, are borne by plant suppliers and operators rather
than consumers, which leads to a significantly different evaluation of
the economics of new nuclear power plants.
Nuclear power plants, though capable of some grid-load following, are
typically run as much as possible to keep the cost of the generated
electrical energy as low as possible, supplying mostly base-load
Internationally the price of nuclear plants rose 15% annually in
With PWR stations, having total costs in 2012 of about $96 per
megawatt hour (MWh), most of which involves capital construction
costs, compared with (in 2018) solar power at $36–44 per MWh, (in
2018) onshore wind at $29–56 per MWH and natural gas at the low end
at $64 per MWh.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, is expected to increase the
costs of operating and new
LWR power stations, due to increased
requirements for on-site spent fuel management and elevated design
Accidents, attacks and safety
Nuclear safety and security and
Nuclear reactor safety
Reactor decay heat as fraction of full power after the reactor
shutdown, using two different correlations. Reactors need cooling
after the shutdown of the fission reactions, to prevent a core melt
accident. The loss of cooling caused the Fukushima accident.
Nuclear reactors have three unique characteristics that affect their
safety, as compared to other power plants.
Firstly, intensely radioactive materials are present in a nuclear
reactor. Their release to the environment could be hazardous.
Secondly, the fission products, which make up most of the intensely
radioactive substances in the reactor, continue to generate a
significant amount of decay heat even after the fission chain reaction
has stopped. If the heat cannot be removed from the reactor, the fuel
rods may overheat and release radioactive materials.
Thirdly, a rapid increase of the reactor power is possible if the
chain reaction cannot be controlled in certain reactor designs.
These three characteristics have to be taken into account when
designing nuclear reactors.
Reactors are designed so that an uncontrolled increase of the reactor
power is prevented by natural feedback mechanisms: if the temperature
or the amount of steam in the reactor increases, the fission power
inherently decreases. The chain reaction can be manually stopped by
inserting control rods into the reactor core. Emergency core cooling
systems can remove the decay heat from the reactor if normal cooling
systems fail. Multiple physical barriers limit the
release of radioactive materials to the environment even in the case
of an accident. The last barrier is the containment.
Following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the world's
worst nuclear accident since 1986, 50,000 households were displaced
after radiation leaked into the air, soil and sea.
Radiation checks led to bans of some shipments of vegetables and
Energy accidents, Nuclear and radiation accidents, and Lists
of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
Some serious nuclear and radiation accidents have occurred.
The severity of nuclear accidents is generally classified using the
International Nuclear Event Scale
International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) introduced by the
International Atomic Energy Agency
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The scale ranks anomalous events or accidents on a scale from 0 (a
deviation from normal operation that poses no safety risk) to 7 (a
major accident with widespread effects).
There have been 3 accidents of level 5 or higher in the civilian
nuclear power industry, two of which, the
Chernobyl accident and the
Fukushima accident, are ranked at level 7.
Chernobyl accident in 1986 caused approximately 50 deaths from
direct and indirect effects, and some temporary serious
The future predicted mortality from cancer increases, is usually
estimated at some 4000 in the decades to
come. A higher number of the
routinely treatable Thyroid cancer, set to be the only type of causal
cancer, will likely be seen in future large studies.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident was caused by the 2011 Tohoku
earthquake and tsunami.
The accident has not caused any radiation related deaths, but resulted
in radioactive contamination of surrounding areas.
Fukushima disaster cleanup
Fukushima disaster cleanup will take 40 or more years,
and is expected to cost tens of billions of
Three Mile Island accident
Three Mile Island accident in 1979 was a smaller scale accident,
rated at INES level 5.
There were no direct or indirect deaths caused by the
According to Benjamin K. Sovacool, fission energy accidents ranked
first among energy sources in terms of their total economic cost,
accounting for 41 percent of all property damage attributed to energy
Another analysis presented in the international journal Human and
Ecological Risk Assessment found that coal, oil, Liquid petroleum gas
and hydroelectric accidents (primarily due to the
Banqiao dam burst)
have resulted in greater economic impacts than nuclear power
Nuclear power works under an insurance framework that limits or
structures accident liabilities in accordance with the Paris
convention on nuclear third-party liability, the Brussels
supplementary convention, the Vienna convention on civil liability for
nuclear damage and the Price-Anderson Act in the United
It is often argued that this potential shortfall in liability
represents an external cost not included in the cost of nuclear
electricity; but the cost is small, amounting to about 0.1% of the
levelized cost of electricity, according to a CBO study.
These beyond-regular-insurance costs for worst-case scenarios are not
unique to nuclear power, as hydroelectric power plants are similarly
not fully insured against a catastrophic event such as the Banqiao Dam
disaster, where 11 million people lost their homes and from 30,000 to
200,000 people died, or large dam failures in general. As private
insurers base dam insurance premiums on limited scenarios, major
disaster insurance in this sector is likewise provided by the
In terms of lives lost per unit of energy generated, nuclear power has
caused fewer accidental deaths per unit of energy generated than all
other major sources of energy generation.
Energy produced by coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydropower has
caused more deaths per unit of energy generated due to air pollution
and energy accidents.
This is found when comparing the immediate deaths from other energy
sources to both the immediate nuclear related deaths from
accidents and also including the latent, or predicted,
indirect cancer deaths from nuclear energy accidents.
When the combined immediate and indirect fatalities from nuclear power
and all fossil fuels are compared, including fatalities resulting from
the mining of the necessary natural resources to power generation and
to air pollution, the use of nuclear power has been
calculated to have prevented about 1.8 million deaths between 1971 and
2009, by reducing the proportion of energy that would otherwise have
been generated by fossil fuels, and is projected to continue to do
Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, it has been estimated
that if Japan had never adopted nuclear power, accidents and pollution
from coal or gas plants would have caused more lost years of
Forced evacuation from a nuclear accident may lead to social
isolation, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic medical problems,
reckless behavior, even suicide.
Such was the outcome of the 1986
Chernobyl nuclear disaster
Chernobyl nuclear disaster in
A comprehensive 2005 study concluded that "the mental health impact of
Chernobyl is the largest public health problem unleashed by the
accident to date".
Frank N. von Hippel, an American scientist, commented on the 2011
Fukushima nuclear disaster, saying that a disproportionate
radiophobia, or "fear of ionizing radiation could have long-term
psychological effects on a large portion of the population in the
A 2015 report in Lancet explained that serious impacts of nuclear
accidents were often not directly attributable to radiation exposure,
but rather social and psychological effects.
Evacuation and long-term displacement of affected populations created
problems for many people, especially the elderly and hospital
In January 2015, the number of Fukushima evacuees was around 119,000,
compared with a peak of around 164,000 in June 2012.
Attacks and sabotage
Main articles: Vulnerability of nuclear plants to attack, Nuclear
Nuclear safety in the United States
Terrorists could target nuclear power plants in an attempt to release
radioactive contamination into the community. The United States 9/11
Commission has said that nuclear power plants were potential targets
originally considered for the September 11, 2001 attacks. An attack on
a reactor's spent fuel pool could also be serious, as these pools are
less protected than the reactor core. The release of radioactivity
could lead to thousands of near-term deaths and greater numbers of
In the United States, the NRC carries out "Force on Force" (FOF)
exercises at all nuclear power plant sites at least once every three
In the United States, plants are surrounded by a double row of tall
fences which are electronically monitored.
The plant grounds are patrolled by a sizeable force of armed
Insider sabotage is also a threat because insiders can observe and
work around security measures.
Successful insider crimes depended on the perpetrators' observation
and knowledge of security vulnerabilities.
A fire caused 5–10 million dollars worth of damage to New York's
Indian Point Energy Center
Indian Point Energy Center in 1971.
The arsonist turned out to be a plant maintenance worker.[citation
needed] Some reactors overseas have also reported varying levels
of sabotage by workers.
Further information: Nuclear proliferation
Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement
United States and USSR/Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles,
Megatons to Megawatts Program was the main driving
force behind the sharp reduction in the quantity of nuclear weapons
worldwide since the cold war ended. However,
without an increase in nuclear reactors and greater demand for fissile
fuel, the cost of dismantling has dissuaded Russia from continuing
Many technologies and materials associated with the creation of a
nuclear power program have a dual-use capability, in that they can be
used to make nuclear weapons if a country chooses to do so. When this
happens a nuclear power program can become a route leading to a
nuclear weapon or a public annex to a "secret" weapons program. The
concern over Iran's nuclear activities is a case in
As of April 2012 there were thirty one countries that have civil
nuclear power plants, of which nine have nuclear weapons,
with the vast majority of these nuclear weapons states having first
produced weapons, before commercial fission electricity stations.
Moreover, the re-purposing of civilian nuclear industries for military
purposes would be a breach of the
Non-proliferation treaty, to which
190 countries adhere.
A fundamental goal for global security is to minimize the nuclear
proliferation risks associated with the expansion of nuclear
Global Nuclear Energy Partnership was an international effort to
create a distribution network in which developing countries in need of
energy would receive nuclear fuel at a discounted rate, in exchange
for that nation agreeing to forgo their own indigenous develop of a
uranium enrichment program.
The France-based Eurodif/European Gaseous Diffusion
Consortium is a program that successfully implemented this concept,
with Spain and other countries without enrichment facilities buying a
share of the fuel produced at the French controlled enrichment
facility, but without a transfer of technology.
Iran was an early participant from 1974, and remains a shareholder of
Eurodif via Sofidif.
United Nations report said that:
the revival of interest in nuclear power could result in the worldwide
dissemination of uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing
technologies, which present obvious risks of proliferation as these
technologies can produce fissile materials that are directly usable in
On the other hand, power reactors can also reduce nuclear weapons
arsenals when military grade nuclear materials are reprocessed to be
used as fuel in nuclear power plants.
The Megatons to Megawatts Program, the brainchild of Thomas Neff of
MIT, is the single most successful
non-proliferation program to date.
Up to 2005, the
Megatons to Megawatts Program had processed $8 billion
of high enriched, weapons grade uranium into low enriched uranium
suitable as nuclear fuel for commercial fission reactors by diluting
it with natural uranium.
This corresponds to the elimination of 10,000 nuclear
For approximately two decades, this material generated nearly 10
percent of all the electricity consumed in the United States (about
half of all U.S. nuclear electricity generated) with a total of around
7 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity produced. Enough
energy to energize the entire United States electric grid for about
two years. In total it is estimated to have cost $17
billion, a "bargain for US ratepayers", with Russia profiting $12
billion from the deal. Much needed profit for the Russian
nuclear oversight industry, which after the collapse of the Soviet
economy, had difficulties paying for the maintenance and security of
the Russian Federations highly enriched uranium and
Megatons to Megawatts Program was hailed as a major success by
anti-nuclear weapon advocates as it has largely been the driving force
behind the sharp reduction in the quantity of nuclear weapons
worldwide since the cold war ended.
However without an increase in nuclear reactors and greater demand for
fissile fuel, the cost of dismantling and down blending has dissuaded
Russia from continuing their disarmament.
As of 2013 Russia appears to not be interested in extending the
Main article: Environmental impact of nuclear power
See also: Life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions of energy sources
Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of electricity supply
technologies, median values calculated by IPCC
Nuclear power is one of the leading low carbon power generation
methods of producing electricity, and in terms of total life-cycle
greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy generated, has emission
values comparable to or lower than renewable
A 2014 analysis of the carbon footprint literature by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that the
embodied total life-cycle emission intensity of fission electricity
has a median value of 12 g CO2eq/kWh, which is the lowest out of
all commercial baseload energy sources.
This is contrasted with coal and natural gas at 820 and 490 g CO2
From the beginning of its commercialization in the 1970s, nuclear
power has prevented the emission of about 64 billion tonnes of carbon
dioxide equivalent that would have otherwise resulted from the burning
of fossil fuels in thermal power stations.
See also: Linear no threshold model
The variation in a person's absorbed natural background radiation,
averages 2.4 mSv/a globally but frequently varies between
1 mSv/a and 13 mSv/a depending in most part on the geology a
person resides upon. According to the United Nations
(UNSCEAR), regular NPP/nuclear power plant operations including the
nuclear fuel cycle, increases this amount to 0.0002 millisieverts
(mSv) per year of public exposure as a global average.
The average dose from operating NPPs to the local populations around
them is less than 0.0001 mSv/a. The average dose to those
living within 50 miles of a coal power plant is over three times
this dose, 0.0003 mSv/a.
As of a 2008 report, Chernobyl resulted in the most affected
surrounding populations and male recovery personnel receiving an
average initial 50 to 100 mSv over a few hours to weeks, while the
remaining global legacy of the worst nuclear power plant accident in
average exposure is 0.002 mSv/a and is continually dropping at
the decaying rate, from the initial high of 0.04 mSv per person
averaged over the entire populace of the Northern Hemisphere in the
year of the accident in 1986.
Renewable energy and nuclear power
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Renewable energy debate, Environmental impact of wind power
§ Pollution & effects on the grid, and Hydroelectricity
§ Comparison and interactions with other methods of power
Slowing global warming requires a transition to a low-carbon economy,
mainly by burning far less fossil fuel. Limiting global warming to 1.5
degrees C is technically possible if no new fossil fuel power plants
are built from 2019. This has generated considerable
interest and dispute in determining the best path forward to rapidly
replace fossil-based fuels in the global energy
mix, with intense academic
World total primary energy consumption, energy for heating, transport,
electricity, by source in 2015 was 87% fossil fueled. In
the period of 1999 to 2015, this fossil fuel percentage has remained
Coal (30%) Natural Gas (24%) Hydro
(Renewables) (7%) Nuclear (4%) Oil
(33%) Others (Renewables) (2%)
In developed nations the economically feasible geography for new
hydropower is lacking, with every geographically suitable area largely
already exploited. Proponents of wind and solar energy
claim these resources alone could eliminate the need for nuclear
Nuclear powered aircraft carriers, presently require as depicted,
jet-fuel replenishment at sea operations, by expensive replenishment
Naval Research Laboratory
Naval Research Laboratory team led by
Heather Willauer has
developed a process that is designed to use the ample electrical power
onboard carriers for alternative in-situ synthesis of jet-fuel from
its chemical building blocks by extracting the carbon dioxide (CO2) in
seawater in tandem with hydrogen (H2) and recombining the two into
long chain hydrocarbon liquids. Writing in the Journal of
Renewable Sustainable Energy, in 2012, Willauer estimated that
the carbon neutral jet fuel for Navy and Marine
aviation, could be synthesized from seawater
in quantities up to 100,000 US gal (380,000 L) per day,
at a cost of three to six U.S. dollars per
gallon. The U.S. Navy is expected to deploy
the technology some time in the 2020s.
Some analysts argue that conventional renewable energy sources, wind
and solar do not offer the scalability necessary for a large scale
decarbonization of the electric grid, mainly due to
considerations. Along with
other commentators who have questioned the links between the
anti-nuclear movement and the fossil fuel
commentators point, in support of the assessment, to the expansion of
the coal burning
Lippendorf Power Station
Lippendorf Power Station in Germany and in 2015 the
opening of a large, 1730 MW coal burning power station in Moorburg,
the only such coal burning facility of its kind to commence
operations, in Western Europe in the
2010s. Germany is likely to
miss its 2020 emission reduction target.
Several studies suggest that it might be theoretically possible to
cover a majority of world energy generation with new renewable
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that if
governments were supportive, renewable energy supply could account for
close to 80% of the world's energy use by 2050.
Analysis in 2015 by professor and chair of Environmental
Sustainability Barry W. Brook and his colleagues on the topic of
replacing fossil fuels entirely, from the electric grid of the world,
has determined that at the historically modest and proven-rate at
which nuclear energy was added to and replaced fossil fuels in France
and Sweden during each nation's building programs in the 1980s,
nuclear energy could displace or remove fossil fuels from the electric
grid completely within 10 years, "allow[ing] the world to meet the
most stringent greenhouse-gas mitigation
In a similar analysis, Brook had earlier determined that 50% of all
global energy, that is not solely electricity, but transportation
synthetic fuels etc. could be generated within approximately 30 years,
if the global nuclear fission build rate was identical to each of
these nation's already proven installation rates in units of installed
nameplate capacity, GW per year, per unit of global GDP
This is in contrast to the conceptual studies for a 100% renewable
energy world, which would require an orders of magnitude more costly
global investment per year, which has no historical
precedent, along with far greater land that
would have to be devoted to the wind, wave and solar projects, and the
inherent assumption that humanity will use less, and not more, energy
in the future. As Brook notes,
the "principal limitations on nuclear fission are not technical,
economic or fuel-related, but are instead linked to complex issues of
societal acceptance, fiscal and political inertia, and inadequate
critical evaluation of the real-world constraints facing [the other]
In some places which aim to phase out fossil fuels in favor of low
carbon power, such as Britain, seasonal energy storage is difficult to
provide, so having renewables supply over 60% of electricity might be
expensive. As of 2019[update] whether interconnectors or new
nuclear would be more expensive than taking renewables over 60% is
still being researched and debated. A very important
consideration is that Britain’s older gas-cooled nuclear reactors
are not flexible to balance demand, wind and solar, but the island's
newer water-cooled reactors should have similar flexibility to fossil
fueled power plants: according to the operator from 2025 the British
electricity grid will be capable of operating zero-carbon, with only
renewables and nuclear. However actually supplying the
electricity grid only from nuclear and renewables may be done together
with interconnected countries, such as France in the case of
Nuclear power is comparable to, and in some cases lower, than many
renewable energy sources in terms of lives lost per unit of
However, as opposed to renewable energy, conventional designs for
nuclear reactors produce a smaller volume of manufacture and
operations related waste, most notably, the intensely radioactive
spent fuel that needs to be stored or reprocessed.
A nuclear plant also needs to be disassembled and removed and much of
the disassembled nuclear plant needs to be stored as low level nuclear
waste for a few decades.
In an EU wide 2018 assessment of progress in reducing greenhouse gas
emissions per capita, France and Sweden were the only two large
industrialized nations within the EU to receive a positive rating, as
every other country received a "poor" to "very poor"
A 2018 analysis by
MIT argued that, to be much more cost-effective as
they approach deep decarbonization, electricity systems should
integrate baseload low carbon resources, such as nuclear, with
renewables, storage and demand response.
Nuclear power stations require approximately one square kilometer of
land per typical reactor.
Environmentalists and conservationists have begun to question the
global renewable energy expansion proposals, as they are opposed to
the frequently controversial use of once forested land to situate
renewable energy systems. Seventy five academic
conservationists signed a letter, suggesting a more
effective policy to mitigate climate change involving the
reforestation of this land proposed for renewable energy production,
to its prior natural landscape, by means of the native trees that
previously inhabited it, in tandem with the lower land use footprint
of nuclear energy, as the path to assure both the commitment to carbon
emission reductions and to succeed with landscape rewilding programs
that are part of the global native species protection and
These, mostly biological scientists, argue that government commitments
to increase renewable energy usage while simultaneously making
commitments to expand areas of biological conservation, are two
competing land use outcomes, in opposition to one another, that are
increasingly coming into conflict. With the existing protected areas
for conservation at present regarded as insufficient to safeguard
biodiversity "the conflict for space between energy production and
habitat will remain one of the key future conservation issues to
Debate on nuclear power
Nuclear power debate
See also: Nuclear energy policy, Pro-nuclear movement, and
The nuclear power debate concerns the
controversy which has surrounded
the deployment and use of nuclear fission reactors to generate
electricity from nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. The debate about
nuclear power peaked during the 1970s and 1980s, when it "reached an
intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies",
in some countries.[page needed]
Proponents of nuclear energy regard it as a sustainable energy source
that reduces carbon emissions and increases energy security by
decreasing dependence on imported energy
sources. M. King Hubbert, who
popularized the concept of peak oil, saw oil as a resource that would
run out and considered nuclear energy its replacement.
Proponents also claim that the present quantity of nuclear waste is
small and can be reduced through the latest technology of newer
reactors, and that the operational safety record of
fission-electricity is unparalleled.
Opponents believe that nuclear power poses many threats to people and
the environment such as the
risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and
terrorism. They also contend that reactors
are complex machines where many things can and have gone
wrong. In years past, they also argued that
when all the energy-intensive stages of the nuclear fuel chain are
considered, from uranium mining to nuclear decommissioning, nuclear
power is neither a low-carbon nor an economical electricity
Arguments of economics and safety are used by both sides of the
Advanced fission reactor designs
Generation IV reactor
Generation IV roadmap from Argonne National Laboratory
Current fission reactors in operation around the world are second or
third generation systems, with most of the first-generation systems
having been already retired.
Research into advanced generation IV reactor types was officially
started by the
Generation IV International Forum (GIF) based on eight
technology goals, including to improve economics, safety,
proliferation resistance, natural resource utilization and the ability
to consume existing nuclear waste in the production of electricity.
Most of these reactors differ significantly from current operating
light water reactors, and are expected to be available for commercial
construction after 2030.
Hybrid nuclear fusion-fission
Main article: Nuclear fusion–fission hybrid
Hybrid nuclear power is a proposed means of generating power by use of
a combination of nuclear fusion and fission processes. The concept
dates to the 1950s, and was briefly advocated by
Hans Bethe during the
1970s, but largely remained unexplored until a revival of interest in
2009, due to delays in the realization of pure fusion. When a
sustained nuclear fusion power plant is built, it has the potential to
be capable of extracting all the fission energy that remains in spent
fission fuel, reducing the volume of nuclear waste by orders of
magnitude, and more importantly, eliminating all actinides present in
the spent fuel, substances which cause security concerns.
Schematic of the
ITER tokamak under construction in France.
Nuclear fusion and Fusion power
Nuclear fusion reactions have the potential to be safer and generate
less radioactive waste than fission.
These reactions appear potentially viable, though technically quite
difficult and have yet to be created on a scale that could be used in
a functional power plant.
Fusion power has been under theoretical and experimental investigation
since the 1950s.
Several experimental nuclear fusion reactors and facilities exist.
The largest and most ambitious international nuclear fusion project
currently in progress is ITER, a large tokamak under construction in
ITER is planned to pave the way for commercial fusion power by
demonstrating self-sustained nuclear fusion reactions with positive
Construction of the
ITER facility began in 2007, but the project has
run into many delays and budget overruns.
The facility is now not expected to begin operations until the year
2027–11 years after initially anticipated. A follow on
commercial nuclear fusion power station, DEMO, has been
proposed. There are also suggestions for a
power plant based upon a different fusion approach, that of an
inertial fusion power plant.
Fusion powered electricity generation was initially believed to be
readily achievable, as fission-electric power had been. However, the
extreme requirements for continuous reactions and plasma containment
led to projections being extended by several decades. In 2010, more
than 60 years after the first attempts, commercial power production
was still believed to be unlikely before 2050.
Nuclear technology portal
Hot spring#Sources of heat
List of nuclear power stations
List of nuclear reactors
Nuclear power by country
Nuclear weapons debate
Thorium-based nuclear power
Uranium mining debate
World energy consumption
Molten salt reactor
^ Dr. Elizabeth Ervin. "Nuclear Energy: Statistics"
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List of books about nuclear issues
List of books about nuclear issues and List of films about
AEC Atom Information Booklets, Both series, "Understanding the Atom"
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