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
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?
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
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.
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
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