The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week killed thousands of people and caused incredible damage to homes, schools, roads and office buildings. But the damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and another nearby plant has put words such as radiation, nuclear reactors and fuel rods on the front page of the newspaper and all over the Internet and television. KidsPost answers some questions you might have about nuclear energy and what’s happening in Japan.
What is nuclear energy?
It’s the energy in the center (or nucleus) of an atom. Atoms make up everything in the universe and are held together with great force. In a process called fission, atoms are broken apart, and the energy released can be used to generate electricity at power plants, including the one in Japan that was damaged. Atoms of uranium, a common element that can be mined from the Earth, are used in nuclear reactions. In fission, a tiny particle called a neutron hits a uranium atom; the atom splits, releasing more neutrons and generating a chain reaction. That reaction releases huge amounts of energy. That energy can boil water to create steam, which in turn causes turbines to spin, generating electricity in a power plant.