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North American Young Generation in Nuclear. Women in Nuclear. Nuclear power is a clean and efficient way of boiling water to make steam, which turns turbines to produce electricity. Except for the reactor itself, nuclear power stations work like most coal or gas-fired power stations. Nuclear power plants use low-enriched uranium fuel to produce electricity through a process called fission—the splitting of uranium atoms in a nuclear reactor. Uranium fuel consists of small, hard ceramic pellets that are packaged into long, vertical tubes. Bundles of this fuel are inserted into the reactor.

Nuclear History: From Atom to B Reactor

A single uranium pellet, slightly larger than a pencil eraser, contains the same energy as a ton of coal, 3 barrels of oil, or 17, cubic feet of natural gas. Each uranium fuel pellet provides up to five years of heat for power generation.

Nuclear power offers many benefits for the environment as well. Greenpeace calls the project "Chernobyl on Ice," warning of collisions with other vessels, terrorist attacks and storms. The Russian nuclear agency calls the concerns "unfounded" and says the floating reactors offer "clean, green, stable energy.

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China has also announced plans to launch a fleet of up to 20 floating nuclear power plants. Construction of the first is set to begin soon. A small team at MIT has been studying the feasibility of a similar idea. Buongiorno says the plan calls for building small reactors in shipyards then towing the nuclear platforms offshore where needed.

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But if there is a more profitable site you simply move your power plant there. The United States military did something like this 50 years ago, anchoring a reactor aboard a barge on a lake in Panama to power canal locks during a decade-long drought. Now, as the climate rapidly changes, proponents of nuclear power say it's time to get back to the future.


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But former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko is dubious, saying that more mini-reactors on sea and land will mean more nuclear accidents. She's an expert in funding new, advanced reactor designs, and says that economics are the key to the future success of nuclear power. But the scale will have to be enormous. Right now there are nuclear reactors operating worldwide. Meeting emission targets — and the increased demand for electricity — could require building hundreds, if not thousands, of new nuclear reactors over the next three decades.

Climate change is here. Time is not on our side. The choices don't get easier.

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This story is part of " Covering Climate Now ," a week-long global initiative of over news outlets. Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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