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Nuclear power supplies approximately 10.5% 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.

Learn more about transport by exploring records published on our Energy Matrix.

Learn more about nuclear power by reading our Energy Insights.

For the latest news and articles on the transport sector read Energy World.

What's new?

US nuclear generation reaches a short-lived high – EIA

8-04-2019
Electricity generated by nuclear power plants in the US hit an all-time high last year – though the country’s nuclear power output is likely to decline in the near future, according to new data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). While a number of nuclear power stations in the US ...

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Hitachi halts work on Anglesey nuclear project

17-01-2019
Hitachi has pulled out of plans to build a  nuclear plant in Wales despite the a comprehensive package offered by the  Government. In a major blow to the UK’s new nuclear ambitions the Japanese conglomerate will abandon the £16n Wylfa Newydd plan which would have supplied about 6...

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A new role for coal - moving power generation skills to the nuclear sector: Energy transition

1-01-2019
Beccy Pleasant looks at the potential for meeting nuclear staffing requirements through re-training and upskilling coal plant employees. 

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Thorp nuclear reprocessing comes to an end

17-12-2018
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s controversial Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (Thorp) plant – one of only two commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plants in the world – has completed its 24-year mission to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from around the world, says operator Sellafield Ltd.Open...

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Toshiba exits Moorside nuclear project

13-11-2018
Britain’s plan to build a series of new nuclear power plants to offset the planned closure of ageing existing plants were dealt a serious blow last month as developer Toshiba announced that it is to wind up its UK nuclear arm NuGeneration and quit the project to build a 3.3 GW plant at Moorside, Cum...

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Events and training

POWERful Women Annual Conference

16-05-2019
Hear from The Rt Hon Claire Perry MP, Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth at our annual POWERful Women Conference.

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Technical guidance publications

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

2013
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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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

2011
Scope 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 standard does not determine the concentration of aromatic carbon in th...

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Nuclear human factors conference papers, held on 16 September 2010

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

1990
ScopeThis method covers the determination of aromatic hydrogen and aromatic carbon contents of hydrocarbon oils. These include kerosines, gas oils, mineral lube oils, coal liquids and other distillates which are completely soluble in chloroform and/or carbon tetrachloride. The detection limit is typ...

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Disposal of nuclear waste at sea

1986
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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