Nuclear (fission) power stations, excluding the contribution from naval nuclear fission reactors, provided about 5.7% of the world's energy and 13% of the world's electricity in 2012. Just a year later, in 2013, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that there are 437 fully operational nuclear power reactors scattered throughout the world in 31 countries. Although not every reactor is producing electricity at this time, the world’s use of nuclear power is consistently increasing.
As fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas grow increasingly scarce, utilities and other industries throughout the world have turned to nuclear power as their main source of power, contending that nuclear power is a safe, sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions.
Despite the scare that nuclear energy poses due to their propensity for potential meltdowns, like we saw with Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, there are approximately 140 naval vessels using nuclear propulsion in operation, powered by some 180 reactors. Those numbers are growing.Given the dangers associated with nuclear power, there is an ongoing debate about the implications nuclear power can cause. Proponents, such as the World Nuclear Association, the IAEA and Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy contend that nuclear power is safe. Opponents, however, such as Greenpeace International and NIRS, contend that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment.
We tell you 11 facts you might not know about nuclear energy in 2014:
- Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission (the process of splitting an atom in two). Nuclear fusion (the process of combining atoms into one) has the potential to be safer energy because it is produced at a much lower temperature. However, nuclear fusion technology has not yet been developed to operate within a large power plant.
- Nuclear energy comes from uranium, a nonrenewable resource that must be mined.
- Every 18 to 24 months, a power plant must shut down to remove its spent uranium fuel, which has become radioactive waste.
- 13 percent of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power plants that emit little to no greenhouse gases.
- Nuclear energy is being used in more than 30 countries around the world, and even powers Mars rovers.
- Nuclear power facilities can produce energy at a 91 percent efficiency rate 24/7, while maintaining the method with the lowest emissions.
- More than 70 percent of America’s emission-free power comes from nuclear energy sources.
- 1 in 5 households and business in the U.S. are electrically powered by nuclear energy.
- United States power plants produce 2,000 metric tons of radioactive waste every year.
- The building of new nuclear facilities creates between 1,400 and 3,500 jobs for construction workers, and after the facility is built maintains 400 to 700 permanent positions paying roughly 36 to 44 percent more than the average salary of the surrounding area.
- American nuclear energy facilities are the highest regulated plants in the world, subject to more scrutinous observations and regulations.
Interested in learning more about nuclear power? Read our 6 things you didn't know about nuclear power.