Beginner’s guide: How nuclear power works

Is nuclear power the answer to the energy crisis? Ian Sample explains how it works – and how we get the awful side-effects of bombs and waste



  • The technology to make nuclear power already exists.
  • There is a plentiful supply of uranium, enough to last hundreds of years.
  • Nuclear energy releases very low amounts of greenhouse gases.
  • It reduces the dependency on oil, coal and gas producing countries
  • Nuclear waste can be safely stored underground
  • The supply of electricity can be altered depending on the demand.
  • There is always the risk of nuclear accidents like the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine
  • There is a risk that nuclear power stations will become terrorist targets or that nuclear material will fall into the hands of terrorists.
  • Countries can use nuclear technology to make nuclear weapons. North Korea and Iran have both been accused of doing this.
  • Transporting nuclear material and nuclear waste is risky and expensive.
  • Nuclear power stations only have a limited life period and the cost of decommissioning them is expensive.
  • There is a belief that living next to nuclear power stations can increase the risk of cancers (leukemia).
  • People don’t want nuclear power stations built near where they live i.e. NIMBY
  • Mining for uranium is dangerous and can be polluting.
  • Nuclear waste remains radioactive for thousands of years (it has a very long half life)
The advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power from Greenfield Geography.

Locating a Nuclear Power Station

There are a number of factors that must be considered when building a new Nuclear Power Plant.
It should be

  • Close to the sea so seawater can be used for cooling. (How does Switzerland get round this problem?)
  • Close to the coast so raw materials (uranium) can be imported and waste exported.
  • Away from major population centres who may fear impacts of nuclear power (NIMBY)
  • It has a nearby rail link and road links – nuclear waste is actually transported by train to Sellafield (a different nuclear site)
  • Flat ground with plenty of extra land available for expansion
  • It is on a slight plateau so sited about the level of coastal flooding
  • Connections to the national grid

UK nuclear power plant gets go-ahead

Hinkley nuclear power plant.PNG

The government has given the go-ahead for the UK’s first new nuclear station in a generation.

  • Where is the the new power station to be built?

  • Why was this location chosen?

  • Is there any opposition to the project?

  • How much will the construction cost and how long will it take?

  • Who will run the power station?

  • How much electricity will it produce?

The Nuclear Power Debate

The unpalatable truth is that the anti-nuclear lobby has misled us all

I’ve discovered that when the facts don’t suit them, the movement resorts to the follies of cover-up they usually denounce.

How nuclear apologists mislead the world over radiation

George Monbiot and others at best misinform and at worst distort evidence of the dangers of atomic energy.

Pandora’s Promise: pro-nuclear movie blows up yesterday’s myths.

The debate on nuclear power and climate change needs to be about technology, cost, location and speed. Robert Stone’s new film says nothing about any of this

Who to trust on nuclear?

Even without Fukushima skeptics might wonder why Britain ignores the German lead on energy.

Nuclear Waste

Radioactive Wastes – Myths and Realities This review is from the World Nuclear Association.

Finding a Solution to America’s Nuclear Waste Problem