Nuclear power

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Nuclear power is the second-largest source of low-carbon electricity today, supplying 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 nuclear power by reading our Energy Insights.

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

Read energy professional's thoughts on the future of nuclear in our Energy Barometer.

What's new?

Global nuclear generation rose 4% in 2021; UK closes Hinkley Point B

03/08/2022

Reactor performance is also reported to have improved, with the average capacity factor of the world’s operating nuclear reactors rising to 82.4%, up ...

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EU taxonomy changes could lead to new nuclear projects and more expensive gas

03/08/2022

The challenge for gas is twofold: abatement technologies are not yet market-ready at scale and their costs, once implemented, are likely to boost pric...

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Construction begins on Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, while Sizewell C gets green light in UK

27/07/2022

Located at El-Dabaa in the Matrouh governorate on the Mediterranean coast, roughly 300 km north-west of Cairo, the plant will comprise four units with...

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UK launches biggest electricity market reform in a generation

27/07/2022

In what could be the biggest electricity market shake up in decades, the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements (REMA) will seek views on a wide ra...

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UK provides increased support for Ukraine’s energy sector

20/07/2022

The civil nuclear support fund will see high priority items, such as personal protective equipment, communications systems and radiation monitoring eq...

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Events and training

Introduction to Process Safety Management - October 2022

04/10/2022 - 06/10/2022

This 3-day course is based on the renowned Energy Institute High level framework for process safety management - a comprehensive proces...

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Human Factors Foundation - October 2022

17/10/2022 - 21/10/2022

This 5-day virtual learning course delivers a comprehensive introduction into human factors for non-specialists. It provides a practical, engaging and...

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Energy Sustainability Conference

08/11/2022 - 10/11/2022

The Energy Institute (EI) Nigeria branch is proud to host another edition of the Energy Sustainability Conference (ESC). Energy Sustainability Confere...

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Technical guidance publications

Guidance on quantified human reliability analysis (QHRA)

2022

This document is free to download for all registered users of this site.EI Guidance on quantified human reliability analysis (QHRA) (second edition) p...

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Guidance on ensuring control room operator (CRO) competence

2022

This publication is free to download for registered users.Control room operators (CROs) perform a critical role in running normal operations, infreque...

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Engaging contractors: Partnership approaches to improving safety in the power industry

2022

This publication was developed in response to demand from operators and contractors within the power generation sector, recognising that the safe and ...

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Research report: Achieving greater resilience to major events – Organisational learning for safety risk management in complex environments

2021

This document is free to download for registered users.This report has been split into the following three sections:Part 1: Cultural precursors to maj...

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Technical workshop proceedings: Hydrogen safety cases – Challenges in hydrogen safety case development in UK/European industrial clusters

2021

This document is free to download for registered users.The workshop reported herein was convened under the auspices of the EI Hy2004 Hydrogen Safety C...

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