Nuclear Energy Worksheets:
The Basics –
Nuclear energy is the energy inside an atom. This energy comes from the
forces that hold the nucleus of the atom together. Today, we understand
how to capture this extremely potent energy and use it to generate
electricity. The ability to generate large amounts of energy from very small
amounts of matter was first proposed by Albert Einstein.
QUESTIONS: The Basics –
To produce electric power, the energy produced by splitting an atom is
Advantages of Nuclear Energy –
Today, approximately 20% of the electricity produced in the United States
is generated using nuclear energy. Nuclear Power Plants use controlled
nuclear fission of uranium atoms to create heat.
Disadvantages of Nuclear Energy –
Nuclear Power Plants use controlled nuclear fission of uranium atoms to
create heat. This heat is then used to turn water into steam, which in turn
powers electrical generators. Today, approximately 20% of the electricity
produced in the United States is generated using nuclear energy, but
nuclear power has some definite disadvantages.
Nuclear Reactions –
Matter is anything that has mass and takes up space. At the most
elemental level, all matter is composed of atoms. Different elements are
made up of different kinds of atoms. Every atom has a nucleus that
contains protons and neutrons and is surrounded by electrons.
QUESTIONS: Nuclear Reactions –
There are two main types of nuclear reactions: fission and fusion. Fusion,
which means joining together, is the process of joining the nuclei of atoms
to create a larger, stable nucleus.
Fusion is the process of joining the nuclei of atoms to create a larger,
stable nucleus. Fusion, which means joining together, is the opposite of
fission, which means breaking apart.
QUESTIONS: Fusion –
Fusion reactions occur naturally in stars. These
fusion reactions are called proton-proton chain
reactions because in these reactions, two
protons collide to form a deuteron.
Fission is the process of splitting an atom. Splitting an atom releases an
enormous amount of energy which, when released in a slow and
controlled matter, can be used to generate electricity.
QUESTIONS: Fission –
The fuel used to generate nuclear energy is
uranium. There are many isotopes of uranium, but
only uranium-235 undergoes fission.
Nuclear Reactors –
A nuclear reactor is a device which maintains a chain reaction by
producing a steady flow of neutrons generated by the fission of the nuclei
of heavy atoms, typically uranium-235 or plutonium.
QUESTIONS: Nuclear Reactors –
Nuclear reactions in nuclear plants are controlled by controlling the
neutrons. Control rods absorb neutrons, and place them into the reactor
in a controlled way.
Nuclear Physics –
Atomic physics is about atoms, but nuclear physics is the study of just the
nucleus of the atom. Physicists are still working to understand the part of
the atom that surrounds the nucleus.
QUESTIONS: Nuclear Physics –
Another thing that nuclear physicists study is
called antimatter. In order to understand
antimatter, remember that a regular atom has
protons (positive particles) and neutrons (neutral
particles) in the nucleus and electrons (negative
particles) orbiting the nucleus. T
The Development of Nuclear Weapons –
Einstein understood the
devastating potential of what he had discovered. Fearful that such a
technology would end up in the hands of Hitler and the Nazis, Einstein
wrote to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the bomb. Roosevelt
then set up the Manhattan Project, which ultimately produced the atomic
QUESTIONS: The Development of Nuclear Weapons –
The objective of the project was to research and
develop an atomic bomb. The project succeeded,
and the first atomic bomb was tested in the New
Mexico desert on July 16th, 1945. The explosion was
as powerful as 18,000 tons of TNT, estimated to be
three times hotter than the center of the sun.
Three Mile Island –
Three Mile Island is located in the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, and
the location of a nuclear power plant where an accident occurred on
March 8, 1979.
QUESTIONS: Three Mile Island –
On Three Mile Island, one of the reactors failed. A valve stuck open
allowed water out of the reactor. As this water was used to keep the
reactor cool, the reactor overheated.