Nuclear power is the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity today, supplying 10% of global electricity

Nuclear power is generated by a controlled chain reaction inside a nuclear reactor, most commonly in a process called nuclear fission. In fission, neutrons collide with uranium or plutonium atoms, causing the atoms to split and release additional neutrons and energy in the form of heat. This heat is used to convert water into steam, which drives turbines to produce electricity. A nuclear reactor was first used to produce electricity in the 1950s, in light of discoveries made through research efforts previously focused on developing nuclear weaponry. A series of commercial reactors for electricity production have since been developed. Today, nuclear power is gaining importance driven by the climate change agenda since it emits minimal greenhouse gases, at levels similar to renewable energy in terms of total life cycle emissions per unit of energy generated. Nuclear power projects are heavily dependent on government policy due to their capital-intensive nature, and are strictly regulated as they deal with radioactive materials.  

Nuclear power is controversial in some locations due to these radioactive materials and the potential health hazards they pose. A number of destructive accidents have occurred in the history of nuclear power; these include the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union in 1986 and the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011. Different nations have widely different visions for the deployment of nuclear power, ranging from France’s 75% dependence on nuclear power for electricity generation to Germany having announced decision to shut down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. Another important aspect is the disposal of nuclear waste; spent fuel remains active for tens of thousands of years and a proven long-term solution for safely managing and disposing of this radioactive waste is yet to be developed. Although newer, safer and more efficient reactor designs are being constructed today, nuclear power has an uncertain future challenged by public acceptance, costs, fuel resource sustainability and nuclear waste management.

As a potentially safer and less waste-generating type of reaction than fission, nuclear fusion is an ongoing area of research. Several experimental reactors exist, but commercial-scale results remain far from realisation. Small modular reactors are also attracting interest, as they allow for greater flexibility with potential benefits particularly for developing countries with limited grid capacity.

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What's new?

Energy Security in the Age of Net-Zero Ambitions and the System Value of Nuclear Power

Report from the pro-nuclear think tan emphasising he role nuclear plays in energy security

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EDF to begin decommissioning UK's AGR nuclear stations

The government and EDF have announced new arrangements to decommission Britain’s seven advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors (AGRs), which are due to reach the end of their operational lives during this decade. The AGRs were the second generation of nuclear power stations to be built in the UK, after...

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Doing more with nuclear

Why stop at power generation? Here, Michael JD Rushton and William E Lee suggest that small modular and other advanced reactors could also be employed to generate heat for use in homes and industry, as well as to create clean hydrogen. Experience of both exists in Europe and Russia.

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Nuclear or gas on the path to net zero?

We can all agree that renewables are the future for clean electricity generation, but what should support this growing sector – gas with carbon capture or nuclear power, or both? If nuclear, are the days of building full-scale reactors coming to an end, to be replaced with modular alternatives? Nick...

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Three EU countries push forward with nuclear phaseout

Some European governments have been sceptical, or outright hostile, towards nuclear energy for decades. Now the countries which are doing away with their fission power plants are reckoning with the tricky issue of decommissioning, write Liz Newmark, in Brussels; Jens Kastner, in Hamburg; and Brenda ...

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Events and training

EI LIVE | Ageing and Life Extension of Offshore Structures for Oil, Gas and Wind Energy

This online course, delivered over four half days, will give you an understanding for managing ageing and life extension of structures for offshore oil and gas installations and wind turbines.

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EI LIVE free webinar | Producing mental energy

Producing Mental Energy - how the energy industry can focus on its most energetic resource - its people09:00 BST |12:00 Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia | 13:00 UAE and Oman

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Human Factors Foundation - October 2021

This 5-day course delivers a comprehensive introduction into human factors for non-specialists. It provides a practical, engaging and interactive background to key topic areas, as well as to how human and organisational factors can be applied within the workplace. 

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Energy Sustainability Conference 2021

The Energy Institute Nigeria has put together this conference to lend its voice among other energy players in Nigeria and the African Energy space to chart a pathway for a sustainable energy future. We believe the subject of Energy Sustainability is one that concerns every citizen of the world today...

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Introduction to Process Safety Management - October 2021

This 3-day course is based on the renowned Energy Institute High level framework for process safety management - a comprehensive process safety management framework which captures industry good practice in process safety management.

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Technical guidance publications

IP 499: Determination of aromatic carbon content of lubricant mineral base oils and middle distillate petroleum fractions - Carbon-13 nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy method

This standard specifies procedures for determining the aromatic carbon content  of mineral base oils within the range of 0,6 % mole to 13,8 % mole, and of middle distillates within the range of 1,8 % mole  to  41,5  %  mole.  The  ...

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IP PM EO: Determination of Olefin content - High resolution Fourier transform nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy method

ScopeThis method covers the determination olefin content of hydrocarbon oils. These include crude oils, heavy fuel oils, middle distillates: diesels with and without biodiesel (including any contribution from olefins in biodiesel), gasoline: E5 and E2 gasoline and other hydrocarbon mixtures typicall...

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Nuclear human factors conference papers, held on 16 September 2010

Human factors encompasses what people are being asked to do, who is doing it, and where they are working, all of which is influenced by a wider organisational culture and external influences.There is increasing emphasis on the importance of managing human factors in the workplace to achieve improved...

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Disposal of nuclear waste at sea

This report was prepared to review current developments and to identify industrial opportunities in the UK in the field of disposal of nuclear waste at sea. The study was carried out by the University of Manchester and was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Council Marine Technology Dire...

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IP 392: Determination of aromatic hydrogen and carbon content - High resolution nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy method

This method covers the determination ofaromatic hydrogen and aromatic carbon contents ofhydrocarbon oils. These include kerosines, gas oils,mineral lube oils, coal liquids and other distillateswhich are completely soluble in chloroform and/orcarbon tetrachloride. The detection limit is typically0.1%...

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