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What is Nuclear Energy?

In the late 1930s, we discovered that some particularly large atoms found in nature can be split into two (or fission), releasing a shocking amount of energy as heat. Because the energy emerges from the atomic nucleus, we call it nuclear energy.

When these atoms are arranged properly in a machine called a nuclear reactor, each splitting nucleus can induce its neighbors to split in turn, creating a controlled chain reaction. Reactors can convert the released nuclear heat into electricity, shaft horsepower (to power ships), building heating, desalinated water, hydrogen, and many other things useful to human civilization.

Today, about 430 commercial nuclear power plants worldwide produce around 400 GW of electricity, enough to power 400 million average households. About one-fifth of the USA’s electricity comes from nuclear power, which represents about half of the country’s zero-carbon electricity.

Nuclear energy is controversial due to concerns about radiation. Public support varies geographically, but nuclear is generally among the least popular forms of energy.

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