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Submitted by on May 10, 2021

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which is most frequently is then used in steam turbines to generate electricity in a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission reactions, nuclear fission, and fusion. At present, the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium. Nuclear fission processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The production of electricity from fusion energy remains the focus of international research. This article focuses primarily on nuclear fission energy for electricity generation.

In 2018, civil nuclear power generated 2,563 terawatt-hours (TWh), which is about 10% of global electricity production and is the second-largest source of low-carbon energy after hydropower. As of December 2019, there were 443 civilian fission reactors worldwide with a total electrical capacity of 395 gigawatts (GW). Also under construction are 56 nuclear reactors and 109 reactors with a total capacity of 60 GW and 120 GW, respectively. The United States has the largest nuclear reactor fleet, generating more than 800 TWh of zero-emission electricity per year at an average power factor of 92%. Most of the reactors under construction are Generation III reactors in Asia.

Nuclear power has one of the lowest levels of losses per unit of energy produced compared to other energy sources. Coal, petroleum, natural gas, and hydropower have all caused more deaths per unit of energy due to air pollution and accidents. Since its commercialization in the 1970s, nuclear energy has prevented about 1.84 million deaths from air pollution and the release of about 64 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent that would otherwise result from the burning of fossil fuels.


Nuclear power plant incidents included the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union, the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, and the major Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979.

There is a debate about nuclear power. Proponents such as the World Nuclear Association and environmentalists argue that nuclear energy is a safe and sustainable energy source (see also nuclear power proposed as renewable energy) that reduces carbon emissions. Opponents of nuclear power, such as Greenpeace and the NIRS, claim that nuclear power poses many threats to humans and the environment. In 1932, physicist Ernest Rutherford discovered that when lithium atoms are “separated” from protons using a proton accelerator, a tremendous amount of energy was released in accordance with the principle of mass-energy equivalence. However, he and other pioneers of nuclear physicist Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein believe that the use of the atom for practical purposes at any time in the near future was unlikely.

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