The nuclear supply chain has a long series of material processing and waste management steps, but the central activity of nuclear power is the splitting of atoms to produce smaller atoms and energy – a process known as nuclear fission. Most nuclear power plants use uranium fuel with high concentrations of uranium (U)-235 isotope. The energy produced by nuclear fission is used to produce steam for a power cycle similar to other thermoelectric power plants.
Role of Alternative Energy Sources: Nuclear Technology Assessment
Nuclear power provides a stable source of baseload power in the U.S. with a greenhouse gas footprint similar to that of most renewable power sources. Maintaining the existing share of the U.S. electricity demand with nuclear power depends on the number of existing facilities that receive operating license extensions and the number of planned and approved new reactors that are actually constructed. Low natural gas prices have slowed the nuclear renaissance in the U.S. The storage of spent nuclear fuel also continues to be a major concern since progress on the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository was halted in 2010. While the chances of adverse nuclear events are small and newer nuclear technologies are inherently safer than older technologies, the scale of a nuclear event can have far-reaching environmental and societal risks.
Authors: Tim Skone, Greg Cooney, James Littlefield, Joe Marriott, PhD, G. Neil Midkiff, Barbara McKinnon, Roxanne Bromiley, Robert Eckard, and Maura Nippert
Date: August, 2012
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