Types of Nuclear Energy

By Jay Leone; Updated April 24, 2017
Nuclear power plant.

Many countries use nuclear reactions to produce energy throughout the world. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2007, there were a reported 439 nuclear reactors operating in the world (see Reference #). Most of those reactors are operating within a few countries, namely, the United States, France, Japan, Russia and Korea.

Types

Nuclear power station.

Currently, there are two ways to produce nuclear energy, through the use of fission and fusion. Fission reactions are more easily controlled than fusion reactions. This is why all nuclear power plants use fission reactions to produce energy and electricity.

Fission

3D of fission.

In nuclear power plants, the most widely used method to produce energy is through the use of fission. The idea of fission is to split atoms, usually uranium, in a nuclear reactor. When an atom splits, neutrons are released, the neutrons then strike other atoms and begin a chain reaction. The splitting of the atoms produces great amounts of energy, and that energy turns water into steam, which drives turbines. The turbines spin a generator and produce electricity, which is harnessed.

Fusion

Nuclear fusion.

Nuclear fusion is another method of producing energy. The sun uses this process to produce its energy. As of 2009, nuclear fusion has not yet been controlled by man and is not used as a means of producing electricity. Its primary use is still only in the production of nuclear weapons. Nuclear fusion works on the idea of forcing two nuclei together through intense pressure. When the two nuclei fuse, a new element is formed, and a large amount of energy is released. This process also sets off a chain reaction, which is difficult to control.

History

Electricity.

Nuclear energy has been used to produce electricity for decades. Nuclear fission was first experimented on by Enrico Fermi in 1934. The idea to use nuclear energy to produce electricity was not realized until 1951. A station near Arco, Idaho, was the first to produce electricity from a nuclear reactor in that year. In the years after, several countries were using nuclear energy to produce electricity.

Uses

Weapons are produced with nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy has many uses, but countries use this power mostly to produce electricity. A more disheartening use of nuclear energy is to produce weapons. So-called “weapons of mass-destruction” use nuclear energy. These weapons are capable of affecting many square miles of a given countryside. Perhaps the most devastating effects of nuclear weapons are the amounts of radiation given off during a blast.