Nuclear Energy Lesson for Kids: Definition & Facts

Instructor: Alyson Breeding

Alyson is an elementary special education teacher and has a master's degree in special education.

Look around you. Everything you see is made of microscopic objects called atoms. Atoms are the source of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is energy that comes from changes in an atom's nucleus, which seems pretty simple but is actually a very complicated chemical reaction!

What is Nuclear Energy?

Nuclear energy is a very powerful type of energy. It is used to create electricity for many households across the world, and can even be used to create bombs!

Nuclear energy is created when the nucleus of an atom changes. An atom is the smallest unit of matter and is made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The nucleus is at the middle of an atom. The nucleus consists of the protons and neutrons. When the nucleus is changed is some way, heat energy is created. The heat energy is known as nuclear energy.

What is Nuclear Energy Used for?

Think about all of the electricity you use in your house. You probably have a TV, a washing machine, a computer, a lamp, a microwave, and much more. All of these things are powered by electricity. Electricity can be created from heat from chemical combustion (like burning coal), or by movement from wind and water.

Electricity from chemical combustion is a non-renewable resource, meaning eventually we will run out of the fuel that creates the electricity. Wind, water and solar energy are all renewable resources, because we will always have rushing wind, water and sunlight. Nuclear energy uses uranium as a fuel. Uranium is a non-renewable environmental resource, so nuclear energy is a non-renewable resource, as well.

So why use nuclear energy if we will eventually run out? Uranium is an environmental resource that we have much more of in the world than fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Also, nuclear energy lasts much longer than traditional fossil fuel energy. Right now, 20% of the electricity used in the United States is created by nuclear energy.

Uranium Mining
Uranium Mining

Fission and Fusion

There are two ways that nuclear energy is created. Nuclear fusion is when two atoms combine to create a larger atom. You can remember nuclear fusion by remembering that fusion is another word for fuse, meaning to combine. Nuclear fission is when the atom's nucleus is split into two, creating two smaller atoms. When this happens, energy is created. The nuclear energy that is used to create electricity across the world is nuclear fission.

Where is Nuclear Energy Created?

Nuclear reactors
Nuclear reactors

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