Nuclear energy is released from the nucleus of atoms through the processes of fission or fusion.


What is Nuclear?

Nuclear energy is the energy held in the nucleus of an atom; it can be obtained through two types of reactions – fission and fusion 1.

Nuclear fission produces energy through the splitting of atoms, which releases heat energy that can generate steam and then be used to turn a turbine to produce electricity.2 All of today’s nuclear plants use fission to generate electricity. The fuel most commonly used for fission is uranium, although additional elements such as plutonium or thorium can be used.

Nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei collide at a very high speeds and join to form a new type of atomic nucleus. During this process, matter is not conserved because some of the matter of the fusing nuclei is converted into photons, which produces usable energy.  This process is what allows the sun and stars to give off energy. Fusion power offers the prospect of an almost inexhaustible source of energy for future generations; however, creating the conditions for nuclear fusion presents a potentially insurmountable scientific and engineering challenge3. A recent experiment has shown that nuclear fusion can be achieved, however, it has not yet been successfully demonstrated on a commercial scale.



Today, nuclear power plants account for 11% of global electricity generation with about 80% of that installed capacity being in OECD countries4 All of this capacity is nuclear fission.

Nuclear energy, through fission, can release 1 million times more energy per atom than fossil fuels 5. It can also be integrated into electricity grids, which currently utilize fossil fuel generation, with few changes to existing infrastructure.

Nuclear has large power-generating capacity and low operating costs, making it ideal for base load generation. However, up front capital costs are intensive and present financial risk to investors given the extended time frames power plants must operate to recuperate their costs[6].

Nuclear energy does not emit greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, it is often seen as a substitute for fossil fuel energy generation and a solution for mitigating climate change.

However, nuclear fission has a wide variety of environmental and health issues associated with electricity generation. The largest concern is the generation of radioactive wastes such as uranium mill tailings, spent (used) reactor fuel, and other radioactive wastes. Some of these materials can remain radioactive and hazardous to both human health and the environment for thousands of years. Several large nuclear meltdowns in history released radioactive waste that had lasting negative impacts on the environment and surrounding communities. This has made nuclear fission technologies controversial.

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External resources

International organizations

Nuclear Energy Agency

International Atomic Energy Agency

International Nuclear Societies Council

World Nuclear Association

International Nuclear Law Association

International Institute of Nuclear Energy

International or Prominent Industry Association

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

American Nuclear Society

European Nuclear Society

Australian Nuclear Association

Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO)

China Nuclear Energy Agency

Japan Atomic Energy Agency

Latin American Section-American Nuclear Society

Korean Nuclear Society

BATAN Indonesia

Research institution

Institute for Nuclear Research Ukraine

Institute for Nuclear Research Hungarian

Daltoon Nuclear Institute

Joint Institute for Nuclear Research

Institute for Nuclear Research Pitesti

National Research Nuclear University MEPhI

Nuclear Energy Institute

International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID)

Belgian Nuclear Research Center

Nuclear AMRC UK

European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)

UNB – Centre for Nuclear Energy Research

Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE)

Soreq Nuclear Research Center

South West Nuclear Hub

Academic Journal

Journal of Nuclear Physics

Nuclear Engineering and Design

Journal of Nuclear Materials

Journal of Nuclear and Particle Physics

International Journal of Nuclear Energy Science and Technology


US Department of Energy

World Nuclear Association

Nuclear Energy


Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – in Canada 

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – Nuclear Power Plants Safety Systems

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – Understanding Nuclear Power Plants: Total Station Blackout


Nuclear Energy Institute

Nuclear Energy Institute 2

World Nuclear Association

Jonathon Porrit

Environmental Impact

World Nuclear Association


Nuclear Energy Institute

Foro Nuclear

Business Analysis

Business Day Live


Business Day Live

Health Impact

The New England Journal of Medicine

World Nuclear Association

New Scientist


United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC)

The Health Physics Society University of Michigan




The Natural Edge Project




American Nuclear Society

Pearce – Michigan Technological University

Other Interesting essays/articles

The Independent

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission – Nuclear in your neighbourhood

The University of Manchester

Breaking Energy

Triple Pundit


  1. Nuclear Energy (2015). What is nuclear energy?
  2. United States Environmental Protection Agency (2015). Nuclear energy.
  3. World Nuclear Association (n.d.). Nuclear fusion power. 
  4. World Energy Outlook (2014). Nuclear power: Retreat, revival or renaissance?
  5. MacKay, D.J.C. (2018). Sustainable energy without the hot air.
  6. Department of Energy and Climate Change (2013). Investing in renewable technologies: CFD contract terms and strike price.