Opinions on Nuclear power

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"Atomic power" and "Atomic Power" redirect here. For the film, see Atomic Power (film).
This article is about nuclear fission and fusion power sources primarily. For commercial quantities of nuclear energy attained from nuclear decay, see Geothermal energy. For the political term, see List of states with nuclear weapons.

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactors to release nuclear energy, and thereby generate electricity. The term includes nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion. Presently, the nuclear fission of elements in the actinide series of the periodic table produce the vast majority of nuclear energy in the direct service of humankind, with nuclear decay processes, primarily in the form of geothermal energy, and radioisotope thermoelectric generators, in niche uses making up the rest. Nuclear (fission) power stations, excluding the contribution from naval nuclear fission reactors, provided 13% of the world's electricity in 2012. The share of the world's primary energy supply, which refers to the heat production without the conversion efficiency of about 33 %, was about 5.7%. Its share of the global final energy consumption (actually useful energy, i.e. electric power) is below 2.5 %.

In 2013, the IAEA report that there are 437 operational nuclear power reactors, in 31 countries, although not every reactor is producing electricity. In addition, there are approximately 140 naval vessels using nuclear propulsion in operation, powered by some 180 reactors. As of 2013, attaining a net energy gain from sustained nuclear fusion reactions, excluding natural fusion power sources such as the Sun, remains an ongoing area of international physics and engineering research. More than 60 years after the first attempts, commercial fusion power production remains unlikely before 2050.

There is an ongoing debate about nuclear power. Proponents, such as the World Nuclear Association, the IAEA and Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy contend that nuclear power is a safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions. Opponents, such as Greenpeace International and NIRS, contend that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment.

Nuclear power plant accidents include the Chernobyl disaster (1986), Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster (2011), and the Three Mile Island accident (1979). There have also been some nuclear submarine accidents. In terms of lives lost per unit of energy generated, analysis has determined that nuclear power has caused less fatalities per unit of energy generated than the other major sources of energy generation. Energy production from coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydropower has caused a greater number of fatalities per unit of energy generated due to air pollution and energy accident effects. However, the economic costs of nuclear power accidents is high, and meltdowns can render areas uninhabitable for very long periods. The human costs of evacuations of affected populations and lost livelihoods is also significant.

Along with other sustainable energy sources, nuclear power is a low carbon power generation method of producing electricity, with an analysis of the literature on its total life cycle emission intensity finding that it is similar to other renewable sources in a comparison of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy generated. With this translating into, from the beginning of nuclear power station commercialization in the 1970s, having prevented the emission of about 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, greenhouse gases, gases that would have otherwise resulted from the burning of fossil fuels in thermal power stations.

As of 2012, according to the IAEA, worldwide there were 68 civil nuclear power reactors under construction in 15 countries, approximately 28 of which in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), with the most recent nuclear power reactor, as of May 2013, to be connected to the electrical grid, occurring on February 17, 2013 in Hongyanhe Nuclear Power Plant in the PRC. In the USA, two new Generation III reactors are under construction at Vogtle. U.S. nuclear industry officials expect five new reactors to enter service by 2020, all at existing plants. In 2013, four aging, uncompetitive, reactors were permanently closed.

Japan's 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which occurred in a reactor design from the 1960s, prompted a re-examination of nuclear safety and nuclear energy policy in many countries. Germany decided to close all its reactors by 2022, and Italy has banned nuclear power. Following Fukushima, in 2011 the International Energy Agency halved its estimate of additional nuclear generating capacity to be built by 2035.


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