Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant.
Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion. Presently the vast majority of electricity from nuclear power is produced by nuclear fission. Nuclear decay processes are used in niche applications such as radioisotope thermoelectric generators. The possibility of generating electricity from nuclear fusion is still at a research phase with no commercial applications.
Nuclear power is one of the leading low carbon power generation methods of producing electricity. In terms of total life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy generated, nuclear power has emission values comparable or lower than renewable energy sources. From the beginning of its commercialization in the 1970s, nuclear power prevented about 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and the emission of about 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent that would have otherwise resulted from the burning of fossil fuels in thermal power stations.
Far-reaching fission power reactor accidents, or accidents that resulted in medium to long-lived fission product contamination of inhabited areas, have occurred in Generation I and II reactor designs. These include the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, and the more contained Three Mile Island accident in 1979. There have also been some nuclear submarine accidents.