|● Nuclear fission|
|● Nuclear accidents|
|● A nuclear decline?|
Nuclear power provides nearly 6 per cent of the world's primary energy at present. This chapter looks at the basics of nuclear power and at how it developed up to the turn of the century. The message at that point seemed to be that it was likely to decline as a major energy source due to the economic and safety problems that had emerged. We look at them in some detail. The next chapter then asks, given that its use does not generate carbon dioxide, can nuclear power can be relied on to play an increasing role in combating global warming, or whether, as many environmentalists would prefer, it should be phased out?
The basis of the human use of nuclear energy is the fact that the nuclei of the atoms of some naturally radioactive materials found in the earth, most notably one of the constituents of uranium, can be induced to split up or undergo nuclear fission, a process that releases heat energy and radiation, together with some sub-atomic particles.
Most of the uranium found in the ground is uranium-238 - this designation referring to the number of basic sub-atomic particles in the atomic nucleus. But in natural uranium there is also a small component (less than 1 per cent) of a slightly different variant of uranium, with a slightly different nuclear make-up. It is uranium-235, and as the name