Nuclear energy regarded as a source of power; SYN. atomic power, nuclear power.
Former name for nuclear energy.
Or atomic energy; Energy released from the inner core, or nucleus, of the atom. Energy produced by nuclear fission (the splitting of uranium or plutonium nuclei) has been harnessed since the 1950s to generate electricity, and research continues into the possible controlled use of nuclear fusion (the fusing, or combining, of atomic nuclei).
In nuclear power stations, fission takes place in a nuclear reactor. The nuclei of uranium or, more rarely, plutonium are induced to split, releasing large amounts of heat energy. The heat is then removed from the core of the reactor by circulating gas or water, and used to produce the steam that drives alternators and turbines to generate electrical power. Unlike fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, which must be burned in large quantities to produce energy, nuclear fuels are used in very small amounts and supplies are therefore unlikely to be exhausted in the foreseeable future. However, the use of nuclear energy has given rise to concern over safety. Anxiety has been heightened by accidents such as the one at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. There has also been mounting concern about the production and disposal of toxic nuclear waste, which may have an active life of several thousand years, and the cost of maintaining nuclear power stations and decommissioning them at the end of their lives.
The energy released by a nuclear reaction.