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Part of the Climate Change exhibition.
Atoms are the building blocks of all matter. Despite their tiny size, they can release an extraordinary amount of energy when split into smaller pieces. Nuclear reactors tap into this power source by splitting uranium-235 atoms, which releases heat that is used to drive an electrical generator. Indeed, a single pellet of uranium fuel—about the size of your fingertip—can generate as much electricity as about 570 liters (150 gallons) of oil.
25% of global electricity needs this century could be met by nuclear power
There is probably enough mineable uranium on Earth for nuclear power to provide almost 25 percent of the world's electricity during this century.
Nuclear power comes with substantial risks, especially with regard to nuclear weapons. First, uranium enrichment facilities can be redirected to produce uranium that can be used in nuclear bombs. And second, nuclear plants that reuse spent uranium fuel produce plutonium-239, which can also be used in weapons. Today, there is enough plutonium-239 in Europe, Russia and Japan alone to produce more than 25,000 nuclear weapons.
Waste from nuclear plants is extremely dangerous and should be stored underground where it cannot be disturbed. Even though most experts agree that such storage can be made reasonably safe, there are still no permanent nuclear waste repositories anywhere in the world.
France gets about 80 percent of its electricity--a greater portion than any other nation--from 58 nuclear reactors. Most nuclear waste from French plants is recycled and used once more.