UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Why do we use nuclear energy?
Question Date: 2013-10-30
Answer 1:

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear processes, such as fission, to generate heat and electricity that we can use. Nuclear fission is a process in which the nucleus of a particle splits into smaller, lighter nuclei. Usually, such processes result in a very large amount of energy released. How large? Well, if we compare a typical combustion reaction, such as coal burning (the kind that fuels the majority of our electricity in the country) or gasoline combustion, then we'll see that allowing 1 kilogram of Uranium-235 to undergo fission releases about 2-3 million times the amount of energy released in the combustion reaction of 1 kilogram sample of coal. That's HUGE difference! 2 million is a two followed by SIX zeroes (2,000,000).

Another benefit of using nuclear power in addition to having much more energy released for the equivalent size of starting material, is that it doesn't contribute to greenhouse gas emissions like fossil fuel burning does. This means less overall pollution to the environment as long as nuclear power facilities are properly maintained. This is especially important in the face of tragic events such as the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986, or the more recent accidents in Fukushima in 2011. One of the greatest risks associated with nuclear power is the nuclear waste, which is radioactive and hazardous to most forms of life. However, there are many European countries which have successfully carried out nuclear programs in the past several decades.

One thing to keep in mind is the diminishing availability of fossil fuels and natural gas. These resources are not only used to fuel our society in terms of energy, but a small component of the fossil fuels we harvest are also used for other things that seem to have become necessary in our lives, including for the production of many plastic materials. As resources become more and more limited, we need to consider alternative sources of energy, such as solar, wind, water, and nuclear energies to complement gasoline and coal combustion.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use