Ariel Schwartz


Obama Wants More Nuclear Power. Does that Make Sense?

The president said he wanted to support nuclear power, but no new nuclear power plants have come online in years. What's holding us back?

Clean energy advocates may have noticed that President Obama didn't just tout solar and wind in this week's State of the Union address; he also encouraged the construction of new natural gas, clean coal, and nuclear power sites. Natural gas and clean coal aren't all that clean (that's for another column), but nuclear may be a decent option. Should we be paying more attention to it?

Nuclear plants produce power by grabbing the energy released from the nucleus of an atom via nuclear fission, a process that splits atoms into at least two nuclei and creates byproducs of heat and gamma radiation (radiation made out of high-energy photons). Fission is triggered by the absorption of a neutron by a fissile atomic nucleus like uranium or plutonium. At the most basic level, the heat generated from this nuclear reactor is used to boil water, which turns a turbine and creates energy.

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