Nuclear Energy

Published: 5.01.2021
Level 5   |   Time: 6:40
Accent: American
Vox Quick Hits - Is Nuclear Energy Good or Bad? (4.23.2021)

A discussion about the risks and benefits of using nuclear energy.


You can download the file [ HERE ].


triangle Directions

  1. REVIEW the vocabulary.
  2. LISTEN to the audio above.
  3. ANSWER the questions.
  4. CHECK your answers (Show Answers)

triangle Vocabulary

  • zero carbon [n] - energy production that creates no carbon dioxide, so it is "clean"
  • decarbonise [v] - remove the carbon
  • carbon emissions [n] - the air pollution (CO2) created by burning fossil fuels (gas, coal)
  • go offline [exp] - stop working (stop producing electricity)
  • renewables [n] - renewable energy sources (wind and solar)
  • natural gas [n] - flammable gas (mainly methane and hydrocarbons) that is found underground
  • fossil fuel [n] - natural fuel such as coal or gas
  • emit [v] - produce and discharge gas or radiation
  • methane [n] - a colorless, odorless flammable gas
  • CO2 [n] - Carbon dioxide - a gas consisting of one part carbon and two parts oxygen
  • radiation [n] - energy created by nuclear fuel
  • generate [v] - make, produce
  • a fuel rod [n] - a rod-shaped fuel element in a nuclear reactor [image]
  • spent fuel rods [n] - fuel rods that have already been used but that still emit harmful radiation
  • submerged [adj] - in water [image]
  • steam [n] - water turned into gas [image]
  • a turbine [n] - a wheel that spins due to a fast-moving water, steam, or air [image]
  • electromagnetic [adj] - relating to how magnetic fields can be used to create electric currents or fields
  • coal [n] - a combustible black rock used as fuel [image]
  • solar [adj] - relating to the sun
  • an electron [n] - the small subatomic particle with a negative charge that orbits a nucleus [image]
  • a solar panel [n] - a panel designed to absorb the sun's rays as a source of energy [image]
  • count [v] - be included, be considered
  • remote [adj] - far away from people, cities or civilization
  • a live issue [n] - an issue that people still argue about
  • launch [v] - put a rocket into space [image]
  • a subsidy [n] - money given by the government
  • firm power [n] - power that is continuous and reliable
  • an impediment [n] - a problem or obstacle
  • a nuclear incident [n] - a disaster or accident caused by nuclear energy
  • a cardiopulmonary injury [n] - an injury to the heart or the lungs
  • asthma [n] - a long-term disease that affects breathing [image]
  • a stroke [n] - a medical emergency caused by lack of blood to the brain
  • a cardiac disease [n] - a disease that stops the proper flow of blood through the body
  • downstream [adj] - along the flow of a river [image]
  • front page news [n] - big and exciting news

[n] - noun,  [v] - verb,  [phv] - phrasal verb,  [adj] - adjective,  [exp] - expression

triangle Comprehension Questions

  1. Bill Gates thinks we need to use _____ nuclear energy.

  2. Nuclear energy generates a lot of _____ energy around the world.
    high carbon
    low carbon
    zero carbon

  3. To fight climate change, we need to _____ carbon emissions.

  4. Nuclear energy produces _____ of the zero-carbon electricity in the US.
    very little
    about half
    almost all

  5. The old nuclear plants in the US will most likely be replaced by _____ power plants.
    natural gas
    renewable energy
    new nuclear

  6. Nuclear energy uses _____ to generate heat.
    fuel rods

  7. _____ are put into water to heat up the water.
    Fuel rods

  8. Steam is used to turn _____ to generate electricity.
    fuel rods

  9. Nuclear power plants are always _____.
    near bodies of water
    far away from large cities
    in remote locations

  10. Every form of electricity production relies on turning a turbine except for _____.
    natural gas

  11. Politicians usually consider nuclear energy _____.

  12. Solar and wind are usually considered _____.

  13. Spent fuel rods emit radiations for _____ of years.
    10 000s
    100 000s

  14. In the US, spent fuel rods were supposed to be stored _____ in Nevada.
    in nuclear plants
    deep underground
    in remote locations

  15. In Europe, spent fuel rods are stored _____ in Finland.
    in nuclear plants
    deep underground
    in remote locations

  16. In the US, spent fuel rods are actually stored in containers _____.
    in nuclear plants
    deep underground
    in remote locations

  17. We can't launch spent fuel rods into the sun because it would be _____ and _____.

  18. Nuclear energy is _____ renewable energy.
    more expensive than
    as expensive as
    less expensive than

  19. Firm electricity is good because it is _____.

  20. Fossil fuel energy production causes _____ injuries or/and illnesses.
    very few
    a large number of

  21. People are _____ to the deaths caused by fossil fuel energy production.
    used to
    not used to

  22. Nuclear energy production causes _____ fossil fuel energy production.
    more health problems than
    about as many health problems as
    fewer health problems than

  23. The speaker would rather live next door to a _____.
    coal power plant.
    nuclear power plant.

  24. The speaker says that living next door to a coal power plant would _____.
    shorten your life expectancy.
    increase your life expectancy.
    have no effect on your life expectancy.

  25. The speaker says that living next door to a nuclear power plant would _____.
    shorten your life expectancy.
    increase your life expectancy.
    have no effect on your life expectancy.

triangle TOEFL Questions

  1. What is the discussion mainly about?
    (A) Different types of clean energy
    (B) The dangerous of nuclear energy
    (C) The best types of renewable energy
    (D) Why we should be investing in nuclear energy

  2. According to the man, why will old nuclear reactors be replaced by natural gas power plants?
    (A) Because natural gas is cleaner.
    (B) Because natural gas is cheaper.
    (C) Because natural gas is easier to produce.
    (D) Because natural gas is safer.

  3. What does the "1" correspond to on the diagram below?
    (A) Radiation
    (B) A solar panel
    (C) A turbine
    (D) A fuel rod

  4. Why are nuclear reactors always near large bodies of water?
    (A) Nuclear reactors need a lot of water to make steam.
    (B) Nuclear reactors need water to cool the system.
    (C) A lot of water is needed to store nuclear waste safely.
    (D) Water is needed to turn a turbine.

  5. Which of these types of energy production does NOT use a turbine to produce electricity?
    (A) Solar
    (B) Wind
    (C) Nuclear
    (D) Natural Gas

  6. How is nuclear waste actually being disposed of these days?
    [Click two answers.]
    (A) It is stored underground.
    (B) It is launched into space.
    (C) It is stored in containers in nuclear power plants.
    (D) It is stored in remote areas in Nevada.

  7. Why does the man mean when he says this?
    (A) Launching nuclear waste at the sun is too expensive.
    (B) Launching nuclear waste at the sun could be dangerous.
    (C) Launching nuclear waste at the sun is very difficult.
    (D) Launching nuclear waste at the sun is not being considered.

  8. How does the speaker feel overall about nuclear energy?
    (A) It is a clean source of energy, but it is dangerous.
    (B) It can produce energy cheaply, but it is not clean.
    (C) It is a good source of clean, safe energy.
    (D) It is cleanest type of energy production.

triangle Discussion icon

To see all of this activity, you can log in or sign up for free.

To see all of this activity, you can log in or sign up for free.

To see a full sample activity, check out Manny's Online Date .

triangle Script

Bill Gates says that if you want to be serious about our climate emergency, you got to get serious about nuclear energy.

Because right now nuclear generates an absolute enormous amount of the zero carbon electricity worldwide. And we know you know to decarbonise the energy system, to fight climate change right, we need to reduce carbon emissions to zero. And right now in the US, I believe nuclear actually generates about half of our zero-carbon electricity nationwide. And a big risk for us in the US is that there are a lot of old nuclear plants, and they are about to go offline soon. And just the way cost had to come out, they are likely to be replaced by natural gas. They don't get replaced by renewables, which are also zero carbon, they get replaced by natural gas which is a fossil fuel and emits methane and CO2.

Okay, well, before we get into all of the history and even all of the issues in the way of a nuclear future, let's just talk about how this works.

Generally, the way nuclear work is you use radiation to generate heat. You use that heat to heat up water. You have these fuel rods. They are submerged in water. They heat up the water by virtues by radiation. The water turns into steam. You use a steam to turn a turbine. And that turbine generates electricity the same way any other turbine generate electricity right. I mean it is just an electromagnetic effect.

And is this why nuclear power plants are always next to bodies of water?

Yes, because they have to cool the water somehow. Basically every way we generate electricity just comes down to turning a turbine somehow. Usually with steam, right? With coal and gas eventually all you're doing is just turning a turbine. With wind, you're using the power of the wind to turn a turbine. With nuclear, you’re turning a turbine. All of them actually except solar, which makes solar really interesting. What’s so interesting about solar to me is it's the only form of electricity generation where you are not turning a turbine. You are exciting the electrons actually in the solar panel, and they're moving into the wire.

We didn’t dig into the question of whether nuclear counts as clean.

If you hear a politician talking about clean energy, they are probably including nuclear in that because they need zero carbon energy. I think critics of nuclear would tell you that because nuclear generates this waste material, it is not clean. You know, because you have nuclear waste at the end of the process, it is not clean in the same way that say solar or wind are clean.

Let's talk about the waste. What is the by-product of this zero carbon form of energy?

Spent fuel rods that emit radiation for hundreds of thousands of years.

Wow! And what do we do with these spent fuel rods?

You know, we were supposed to store them in Nevada.

Why Nevada? What did they do?

Because it's really remote In the US, we put all this thought into it. In Europe, they just bury it really really deep underground in Finland. It's supposedly so deep that it doesn't intersect with the water supplies. I think in the US it remains a live issue. And I think what most nuclear plants do is they just have spent fuel rods on site under protection in containers where the radiation isn't escaping.

I’ve also always heard this ideas about nuclear waste that we should just launched it at the sun. Is that a serious idea?

Okay. I have to be honest with you. I have also always wondered this about nuclear waste. I believe the reasons why not to do it are the first of all launches do fail. It is bad if suddenly we sprinkled a thin dusting of fuel rods across the Atlantic Coast of Florida. The other half of this is like cost matter there too. And nuclear is kind of expensive. It requires some level of subsidy, at least in the US. And it's expensive to launch things.

Okay. Let’s talk more about cost. How expensive is nuclear energy compared to other sources?

Nuclear is more expensive than renewables. Where nuclear is different, and I think why climate people get very excited about nuclear, is because nuclear is a source of what’s called firm power, or firm electricity. And this is arguably why even though it's expensive, it's worth paying for. Because nuclear, you know, generates electricity all the time. Like once you get a nuclear plant going, you're basically running it all the time.

A third impediment here is death.

People get very worried about the safety of nuclear plants. If you have a nuclear incident, there is potentially waste around for a long long time. You know, here’s the thing. Compared to coal or really any part of the fossil fuel system, which we know causes hundreds of thousands of cardiopulmonary injuries a year, heart attacks strokes, cardiac disease, early death, asthma attacks. Nuclear is almost certainly below the public health burden of the fossil fuel system. We just are used to living with the result of the fossil fuel system. We're used to people having heart attacks, right? We're used to people growing up with asthma. You know, while fossil fuel deaths are just something that happen in the background, they are hard to associate with the actual fossil fuel system. You know, someone dies in their late 50s or early 60s dies of a heart attack, and they lived downstream of a coal plant for 20 or 30 years. You know, we don't count that. That’s not front page news, but that is a death in the same way a plane crash death is a death. It's just a whole lot less dramatic.

If you want a generally lower risk system, I understand why people get scared of nuclear. However, that being said, would I live next door to a nuclear plant or a coal plant? Absolutely, no question, nuclear every day of the week because nuclear is basically fine. You know, if I lived next door to a coal plant, I’m taking years off my life, while if I live next door to a nuclear plant, the most likely thing is that nothing ever happens and I have very cheap electricity.

Our Depressed Society