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Nuclear energy currently provides 13% of the world’s electricity. Is this figure likely to grow in the future? Proponents argue it’s a low carbon sustainable energy source, but public fears about safety especially post Fukushima is high. Here’s Dr Scott Tinker with more.

"Nuclear is more powerful than any other energy source. And that means it’s hard to handle. Nuclear makes about 20% of the electricity in the US, 80% in France, and a smaller amount in most other developed countries. With zero emissions. That’s steam coming out of the cooling tower – which is evaporated to cool the plant. And compared to the huge amount of electricity it produces, the fuel costs almost nothing.

That’s because nuclear fuel is incredibly powerful. One uranium pellet weighs ¼ of an ounce. That’s equivalent to nearly one ton of coal. In other words, 128,000 times more powerful. When the fuel is no longer strong enough to make electricity, it still has a huge amount of energy left in it: Which means it’s hot, and it’s radioactive. Handling this spent fuel is a major challenge of nuclear – and we discuss that in another video.

Another challenge is proliferation. Could terrorists turn this waste into a bomb? It’s hard to handle, closely guarded, not pure enough, and the technology is complex. The chances are slim.

What about a nuclear accident? In 50 years we’ve had three worldwide, but only one has had radiation fatalities. The dangers are real, but compared to coal, oil and natural gas, nuclear has a superior safety record.

So what’s the biggest challenge for nuclear? Cost. To contain all that energy, the plants must be incredibly robust. They’re much more expensive than, say, a natural gas plant. And people are still afraid of it. That means public opposition, lawsuits, more time, and more expense to build a plant. So, nuclear energy is incredibly powerful and very cheap. While building nuclear plants is very difficult and very expensive. What will be the future of nuclear then?"

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