UCSB Science Line
 What is the difference between nuclear energy and electricity? Question Date: 2002-01-11 Answer 1:Nuclear energy is energy released when two small atomic nuclei combine (fusion) or one big nucleus breaks apart (fission). This energy is carried by particles of some sort (neutrons, photons, neutrinos, or nuclei for example) until they hit something and transfer their energy and generate heat. Electricity involves the flow of electrons (current) inside a material, like a wire. We can use electricity to create light by running current through a wire so that the wire (filament) gets hot and emits light or we can operate a device (like a blender) by running current through an electric motor. By the way, you can also create electricity with an electric generator, which is basically an electric motor run in the opposite direction. Maybe you have seen an exhibit somewhere and lit up a light bulb by riding on a bicycle? How do you think you could use nuclear energy to create electricity? Answer 2:Let's answer this question by defining what these words mean. Electricity, as we usually think of it, is a means of transporting energy. If you have heard of the fundamental parts of matter, you might know what an electron is -- a very small particle that can be pushed around by what physicists call the "electric force" (basically, it means that electrons create a force that pushes them apart, much like two north poles from magnets push each other apart). Electricity appears when electrons move through wires because of that electric force. Electric equipment (like light bulbs) work because they take some of the energy from the motion of the electrons and turn it into other forms of energy (like light). But how do we set up the electric force in the first place to push the electrons around? Well, since the electric force gives the electrons energy of motion, we need some kind of energy source to create the electric force (don't take me too literally here, since I am over simplifying a bit). There are many sources of energy: light from the sun (solar energy), energy of motion from the atmosphere (wind), energy from the heat inside the earth (geothermal energy, energy of motion from lakes, rivers, etc, behind dams (hydroelectric power), energy from burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas (combustion), the energy that holds the nuclei of atoms together -- that's the other part of an atom from the electrons, and it is made up of many smaller pieces (this is nuclear power) The way we access nuclear power from inside atoms is that some atoms have more energy than they'd like, so they split into pieces, which don't need as much energy. The leftover energy gets turned into heat, which is then used to create electricity. Answer 3:What a great question! Nuclear energy is a TYPE of energy. The energy trapped inside each atom. Electricity is the FLOW of energy from one place to another. Nuclear energy can actually be used to make electricity. An atomic chain reaction is controlled to produce heat to boil water. The resulting steam turns a turbine and a generator and makes electricity. Nuclear energy is not the only source of electricity. Here in California, most of our electricity comes from burning natural gas, rather then nuclear energy. The natural gas is burned to produce heat to boil water. The steam produced turns a turbine and a generator to make electricity, similar to the nuclear energy method. Click Here to return to the search form.