A massive alien vessel is buried in a sandbank under the sea. Research subs detect a vast supply of nuclear energy held within it.

I've been researching power plants, fission and the processes that produce nuclear energy and have so far found nothing on what happens before the energy is used. Can nuclear energy be contained and held in a stationary state? If so, how could it be indefinitely on an alien ship? Should I just resort to alien techno-babbly, science wizardry?

Also, how would we detect the energy underwater from below the seabed?

Sorry if these seem like silly questions. Have always struggled with chemistry haha

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Luke. Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is dedicated to providing detailed answers to specific questions you have while building your fictional world. To that end, we expect each question post to be limited to a single, meaningful problem for answers to be built around answering. As it is, there are four distinct questions here, which is likely to have the post put on hold as needs more focus until it is brought in line with the community's expectations through an edit. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    May 12, 2020 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


Yes, you certainly need to start by getting a high-school physics text and learning what "energy" is. One doesn't detect "nuclear energy" because there's no such thing. Perhaps they are detecting the radiation signature given off by a large nuclear power plant or stores of highly radioactive fuel for that plant.

First, learn about "mass," "kinetic energy," "potential energy," and their relationships and interactions. Then go back and redesign your storyline.

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    $\begingroup$ This answer would have been better suited to being a comment. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2020 at 13:53

Nuclear energy starts as fuel, just like the gasoline in a car's tank before it's burned. In the case of a nuclear fission reactor, the fuel is uranium. Energy comes from splitting the nucleus in the process described below. Wikipedia has a good description.

Diagram of nuclear fission

So what does the fuel look like before it's used? Here's a photograph from Idaho. when a reactor is working correctly, it's very easy to stop a reactor and the fuel can be stored indefinitely.

Reactor fuel

The easiest way to detect this kind of thing is by looking for radiation. According to the NRC, a normal functioning nuclear power plant will raise the local radiation levels by about 1/30,000 over normal levels. If the ship's shielding is damaged, the levels could be much higher.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello Andrew! So you are suggesting that the radiation emitted by the fission process within the ship could be detected? $\endgroup$
    – Luke Duffy
    May 12, 2020 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @LukeDuffy if the reactor isn't active then there's no fission. You can detect the radiation of the nuclear fuel, especially if the shields have been damaged. $\endgroup$ May 12, 2020 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ Ah I see! And just to be clear, geiger counters (I presume that's what would be used) can work underwater and hence pick it up from under the sandbank? If you don't know that's fine. Your answer and follow-up comments have been tremendously helpful :) $\endgroup$
    – Luke Duffy
    May 12, 2020 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly! youtube.com/watch?v=bsgDjekQBXA $\endgroup$ May 12, 2020 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ Water is very good at stopping radiation; divers actually regularly swim in the cooling ponds where they temporarily store the highly radioactive spent fuel. As long as they don't dive too deep, it's totally safe even though if they were that close in air they'd be dead. So your geiger counter will have to be extremely sensitive. Detecting waste heat may be a better bet, nuclear reactors get pretty hot. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    May 12, 2020 at 16:36

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