What is a Nuclear Power Plant?
Nuclear power is the most controversial of all forms of electricity generation. Evaluating its importance involves weighing political, strategic and often emotional considerations alongside the more usual technical economic and environmental factors that form the core elements of any power technology.
Nuclear energy provides around 15% of the electricity generated worldwide. It avoids around 2.5bn tonnes of CO2 emissions, so it makes a major contribution towards a sustainable electricity supply which achieves the goals in terms of economics, capability and the environment to a large extent.
Nuclear Fuel and the Nuclear Resource
Nuclear reactors require nuclear fuel in order to function. This fuel is usually uranium although other elements, including plutonium can also be used. Thorium, though not a nuclear fuel itself, can be turned into a suitable isotope of uranium in a nuclear reactor. Thorium is naturally occurring like uranium but plutonium is only produced during nuclear reactions so its main source is nuclear reactors.
Uranium is present in most rocks and in seawater and is a relatively common element in the earth’s crust with an abundance similar to that of beryllium, molybdenum, tin, arsenic and germanium. It is found in relatively high concentrations in a few areas and it is these that provide the supply that is used for nuclear power.
Nuclear Fuel Cycle
The production of fuel for nuclear reactors and the handling of spent fuel after it has been removed from a reactor involve a number of industrial processes that taken together are known as the nuclear fuel cycle.
The nuclear fuel cycle starts with the mining of uranium containing ores and the milling of the ore to extract uranium in the form of uranium oxide. This usually involves the processing of large quantities of relatively low quality ore, crushing and grinding it in order to release the uranium mineral particles and then capturing the uranium in solution, often with sulfuric acid. The uranium is then extracted from the acid solution to provide a solid oxide called yellow cake, which is packaged into drums for shipment to fuel manufacturing facilities.
Working of Nuclear Power Plants
Generating Electricity by Nuclear Power Plants
Basically, nuclear power plants work in the same way as coal and gas fired plants converting heat to electricity. Whereas fossil fuel fired power plants run on energy media such as oil, lignite or hard coal, nuclear power plants use the heat given off when atomic nuclei split.
The working of a nuclear power plant with a pressurized water reactor model is shown below.
Nuclear fission inside the reactor pressure vessel generates heat, which heats water until it evaporates, turning thermal energy into latent energy in steam. This team which is under high pressure then drives the turbines, which turn the generators connected to them generating electrical energy like a bicycle dynamo. Condensing the steam required to drive the turbines is done either by direct flow or seawater cooling or via a cooling system using a cooling tower.
Frequently Asked Questions on Nuclear Power Plant
What is a nuclear power plant used for?
Small reactors are used for electricity generation at nuclear power plants and in marine nuclear propulsion. Atomic fission heat is transferred to a working fluid (water or gas), which in turn runs through steam turbines. They either drive the propellers of a ship, or switch the shafts of electrical generators.
What are the benefits of nuclear power?
Nuclear power stations have a reliable base energy fee. This will work synergistic ally with renewable, such as wind and solar. Production of the plants’ electricity can be lowered if good wind and solar resources are available and cranked up when demand is high.
What happens if a nuclear power plant explodes?
A nuclear power plant makes use of uranium fuel to produce electricity by steam. This process turns uranium into other radioactive matter. If an incident happens at a nuclear power plant, heat and pressure may build up, and the steam will be released along with the radioactive materials.
What is the purpose of nuclear power plants?
A nuclear reactor generates and regulates energy release from the splitting of the atoms of certain elements. The energy generated in a nuclear power reactor is used as heat to produce steam for electricity generation. (The main aim of a research reactor is to use the actual neutrons produced in the core.
Who invented nuclear power?
Enrico Fermi is seen as a significant figure in nuclear energy exploration. Born in Rome, Italy, this physicist was the first scientist to break the atom and his work later contributed to the development of nuclear power. Fermi and Leo Szilard found the first nuclear reactor that had triggered reactions to the nuclear chain.