I understand that the difference in mass between the protons and neutrons and the nucleus itself is called the mass defect, and that this mass defect is converted into nuclear binding energy. What seems to confuse me is where this energy is actually stored. I've been reading 4-5 different textbooks and several sources online but they seem to give conflicting perspectives on the matter. Some say that they are stored within the nucleus itself, whilst others say that they are "released", i.e. transferred to the surroundings. The latter makes more sense to me, as nuclear binding energy is officially defined as the amount of energy required to break apart the protons and neutrons and hence completely disassemble a nucleus. I'm genuinely confused and would appreciate any help.