When things work exactly like they're supposed to, nuclear energy is a very safe source of power.Trouble is, things don't always work out that way in the real world.
In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that struck Japan in 2011, nuclear energy has come under renewed scrutiny worldwide.
Though there are many advantages to nuclear power, a close analysis of the history of uranium-based energy production reveals a darker side to nuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants have been around since 1951, when the Experimental Breeder Reactor I (EBR-I) in Idaho produced enough electricity to illuminate four 200-watt light bulbs.
Larger, commercial-scale nuclear plants were soon built throughout the United States, Canada, the Soviet Union and England.
A typical nuclear reactor uses enriched uranium -- usually uranium 235 or plutonium 239 -- to generate power.
The radioactive uranium is formed into long rods that are submerged into water; the rods of uranium heat the water, creating steam, which then drives a steam turbine.The movement of the steam turbines is what generates electricity.(The plumes of water vapor seen rising from the large cooling towers of nuclear power plants are just harmless steam.)Currently, there are over 430 nuclear power plants in service all around the world, and just over 100 in the United States.(Because plants go online or offline regularly, the exact number changes yearly.) Nuclear power provides about 15 percent of the world's electricity, and about 20 of the electricity in the United States.France, Japan and the United States are the largest users of nuclear power, generating over half of the total nuclear power available worldwide.Nuclear energy generates electricity very efficiently when compared to coal-generated power plants.