The main nuclear fuels are uranium and plutonium.
In a nuclear power station, nuclear fuel undergoes a controlled chain reaction in the reactor to produce heat - nuclear energy is converted to heat energy:
- heat is used to change water into steam in the boiler;
- the steam drives the turbine (heat to kinetic energy);
- this drives the generator to produce electricity - kinetic to electrical energy.
Nuclear and geothermal energy are the only energy resources that do not come from the Sun.
- Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear fuels do not emit greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
- Nuclear fuels do not emit gasses such as sulphur dioxide which cause acid rain.
- 1 kg of nuclear fuel produces millions of times more energy than 1 kg of coal.
- Like fossil fuels, nuclear fuels used for fission, such as uranium ore, are non-renewable energy resources since supplies will not last forever.
- Although modern reactor designs are extremely safe, if there is an accident, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the environment.
- Nuclear waste remains radioactive and is hazardous to health for thousands of years, so it must be stored safely.
- Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is extremely expensive.