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?

EDF poised to submit planning application for £20bn nuclear power plant

20-02-2020
The French state-controlled company will submit a formal planning application to build a new £16bn nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk soon. If approved, the new station, on the coast between Ipswich and Lowestoft, would include two new EPR reactors – identical to the Hinkley...

Read more »

Viewpoint: Australia must embrace nuclear power

3-02-2020
Australia has three electricity futures - coal, nuclear or chaos. It's time to bring Australia into the 21st century by aggressively embracing the nuclear one, writes Terry McCrann, business columnist with The Australian newspaper. 

Read more »

Nuclear sector calls for new funding model

30-01-2020
The UK’s nuclear industry is at a critical juncture, with almost all of the current fleet of nuclear power stations set to retire this decade. Yet developers and governments increasingly balk at the cost of new nuclear plants, leaving EDF and its partner, China’s state-backed CGN, the only companies...

Read more »

Mothers for Nuclear urge understanding of nuclear as safe, clean energy

2-01-2020
In a letter to the Financial Times, Heather Hoff and Kristin Zaitz of Mothers for Nuclear write that nuclear power is the safest way to generate reliable electricity. "Right now, across the US, we are closing perfectly good existing nuclear plants because of low natural gas prices and discriminatory...

Read more »

Speech: Nuclear energy innovation for clean growth

3-12-2019
Nuclear energy is a mature and proven low-carbon source of electricity, with a 60-year track record of providing reliable and safe operation. Further innovation and technological development will enable even wider applications aimed at deep decarbonisation of economies around the world and supportin...

Read more »

Events and training

Nuclear engineering for safety, control and security 2020

26-03-2020
External event hosted by The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). For more information and to book, please visit www.theiet.org/nuclear

Read more »

Energy investment and innovation - Strategic challenges for an industry in transition

2-06-2020
The UK National Committee of the World Petroleum Council, in partnership with the Energy Institute, is delighted to announce that it will host an Expert Workshop where energy and investment industry experts will address current challenges and will discuss strategic financial solutions that will faci...

Read more »

Electrification for Net Zero

8-10-2020
A number of countries are making commitments to move to a net zero emissions economy. There are many ways to help bring emissions to net-zero which will be discussed during this conference. 

Read more »

Introduction to Process Safety Management

17-11-2020
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.

Read more »

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...

Read more »

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...

Read more »

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...

Read more »

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...

Read more »

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...

Read more »

Visit our publishing site »

You may also be interested in