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The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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1.5 Summary of Week 1

In this week, you have examined the science behind nuclear energy. You’ve learned that atoms are made up of a much smaller nucleus with electrons in orbit around it. The nucleus contains positively charged protons and neutral neutrons, collectively known as nucleons.

The same elements contain atoms that always have the same number of protons within them but can have differing numbers of neutrons. These different forms are called isotopes.

The interplay of forces within a nucleus leads to some isotopes being stable while others are unstable. Unstable nuclei emit particles to gain stability and are called radioactive. Alpha, beta and gamma radiation can be emitted from radioactive substances.

Radiation is all around us and is measured by the background count. The radioactive nature of some elements is put to good use.

Some heavy isotopes (such as uranium-235) can undergo fission. Fission involves the nucleus splitting into smaller nuclei and releasing energy. The products from fission are very radioactive and must therefore be disposed of with care.

In Week 2, you will examine how the energy from fission can be harnessed into a workable energy resource that can be used to generate electricity. You will look at the National Grid and the components of a nuclear power station.

One of the most contentious issues surrounding nuclear power is that of nuclear waste. You will look at the different types of nuclear waste and current ideas on how to deal with it.

You can now go to Week 2 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .