You are on page 1of 43

Peau g latf tat

'l"l-. J g,',1

Chapter l0 M€ ,/T. t/,

4thn 1 tb'L-lO'6
aW 4, tL.t{
Nuclear power 2--\ \
By Janet Ramage

10. I lntroduction
Nuclear power iE the subject of this and the next chaPter. This one-
consideri the present situation, the background science and the types of
nuclearpower plant curently in use. Chapter 11then discusses possible
n"w and the issuos ttrat might determine the future for nuclear

This chapter starts with a b ef survey of the changing contribution of

nuclear power to world electricity supplios over the past half cenlury.
.L summary of the picture of itomic nuclei dsveloped in ChaPter 4 then
leads to the frrst marn topic: mdrboctrvify. This lvas the earliest sub_nuclear
efloct to be detected, and is today undoubtedly the aspect ofnuclear power
lhat gives rise to the Sreatest public concem.It was also the tool that led to
$e discovery of nucloar fissioD, the central topic of the rest ofthe chapter,
rvith accounts ofpiesent-day nucreorlission reactors and their medts and
problems as power sources. The chapter also includ€9 short irboductions
to the principles oflost breeder rcscto$ and nuclear /usion, as a prelude to
the more detailed discussion in Chapter 11. .

\uclear power has led to controversy since itS inception. Beforc the gencral
public had evan heard of 'atomic enoaty', scientists in lhe 1940s lvere
aheady divided, with some talking of '€lect city too ch€ap to meter' and
others advocating no further developoent of the technology after lvorld
warIL In theevent, ihe post-wa-r period saw the emergence ofnew nuclear
rveapons and also tho frrst nucloar power slations supplying electricity
io the public. But the debate is by no mearls over. Supporters cite limited
fossil fuelresources and coDcems about climatechan8e, while oppo[ents
raise issues such as safety, proliferation of nuclear weapons and the
extent of the world's uranium Esource. These issues aJe also discuss€d
in Chapter ll.

Nuclear power worldwide

In the year 2009, nuclear power contributed to electricity generation itr
thi y differetrt countries, with aworld total of435 reactors supplyingabout
2700TWh a year ftom a total operational capacity of 375GW. The USA
accounted for about a third of the total output and France about a sixth.
The only other couDtries contributing more than about three percent ofthe
total wors rapan, the Russian Federation, South KorBa, Germany, Ca,rada,

h"a..t P o:.^frrc 7r^r^")-,

"^ sl** { *5ba*
* a: rdudutt-pw!*,-\a r*6!z-d,&

Ukraine and the UK. In the laiter, nuclear power contributed 69TWh or
about a Iifth ofthe country's electricity production for tlc year (BP, 2010;
Ths fust few nuclear plarts started supplying power to nationalSrid systems
in the 1950s, but as FiSure 10.1(a) 6hows, th€ mpid Srora'th in nuclear
capacity begar over a decade later- From a mere 75TWh in 1970, world
anDual nuclear output incieased to over TOOTWh by 1980 - an average rise
of about 25% a year. One country was largely responsiblo for this change:
the USA. hometo theworld'sfirst nuclearreactor, had the technologv, and
with fluctuating oil prices andincreasing concern about resources nuclear
pla-Dts began to be s€en as worthwhile investm8nts.



, tsm 5 ls
. t0@ & lo
' 500 5

0 0
I I t970 lt80 ?000

Fi8urc I O. I Nuclqr cdributioni !o world .lectricit, g.ieBdon: (a) a.i6l nrclcar oulPuc (b) nuclear PeEsEre of tot:l
(i@rcq Bn 2010)

The worldwide incrcase received a fu:rther boosl in the 1980s wlth the
initiatioD of the French nuclear Plogralnme As discussed in earlier
chapters, France has only minimalios;il fuel resources' and in
the 1970s
a d;cision was asachod it government level to develop nuclear energy as
the dominant source fo. ui".tri.ity. Tbe reasoning may have ban rather
differenl, but the result was remarlably similar io the earlicr growlh in the
USA. Beiween 1975 and 1985 the annuat oulpul of French nucle'ir Planls
rcse fiom l8 to 224TWh, a twelvefold increase over the len_year Perrod
Continuin8 Srowth, although less rapid, has meant that over the past feiv
decades Fiich nuclear ouiputhas c;ntinued to meetabout three-quarters
of the country's eleclricity demand.
0s and
World electicity consumPtion Srew very rapidly throughout the
1980s (see, for instance, Figurs 9 26), but nuclear outPut wasrising even
faster and bv 1990 accounied for about a slxlh of lolal world eleLlricil\,
Droduction iFisure l0 ltb)). Throu8hout the lggos, nu'lcar otrlpul lust
i.epl pace wilfthe ever-growing dimand for elect cily, bul in the hlst
de'cade oI the present ceitury iG perc*rtage cont bltior started
to fall'
ir"rir"rrv, i,"* pt""t startlups iould nolonger balance the shutdowos
"t lhe vear 2007 saw for the first tims an aclu'tl dPcrPa\e iD
(Figur€ 16.2),
world nuclear output.


a 20



Figure I 0.2 wodd @ctor tnGup3 and shutdownt (source r€dnwn 1106 Sch.eider et rl.. 2009)

,|y'1 Nuclei a brief summary
4n ",oun, o, unnnnnucl.i in Chaplcr,l incluoed rhFtollusiug poinrs.
r The nucleus of any atom consists of two types of pa icls: protons and
nsutrons, collectivoly callgd nucleoDs. These ars the 'heavy' particles
in an atom, accounting for most ofits mass.
t The main differcnc€ between a proton and a neuton is that the proton
has positive olectric charge whilst a neutron is electrically neutal.
r The numberofplotons in thenucleus,the atomjc number, characterizes
a chemical element.

r Nuclei of the eame element may have different numberc of Deutrons,

creatiDg isotopes of lhe element.
: The mass number of any isotope is equal to the total numbff o[ nucloons
lprolons plus neubons) in the Ducleus.
. The protons and neutrons in a nucleus are held together by tho strong
nuclear force acti[g bolwgsn th6m al the tiny distances withir the
The acual mosses of tho sub-atomic parlicles did not ortsl in ths accounts
in Chapter.l, but they wiII be ofconsiderable signilicance here. However,
even the 'heaiT' particl€s have m&sses that aro tiny liactions of a ki lo8ram.
To avoid workirg with absurdly high (or low) pow€$ often, a new, more
app.opriate, mass unithas been adopted for sub-Duclear parliclos. Similar
reasoning appli€s to the eDergies of the particles. (The kineiic energy of
a pmton or neuuon. sven Eavelling at 100 million mph, would be about
1.6 millionths of a millionth of a iou)e.) Box r0.r iDtroduces the units used
in nuclear calculations.

8OX l0.l Unitr for rub-atomic masla! .nd ancrglca

The accepled unit for mass at sub-atomic lelel ls the unified mass unit (ul
chosen to be roughly equal to the mass of one proton or ncutrolt. Forllailv it
is defiDed as one twelfth of the mass oI a carbon''12 atom (becaLrse the carbon
mass can be rneasured very accurately),

The unit lor eDergies on the atornic scale is the electron-volt (eV). defined as
the eneryy gained by an electrotr (or ploton) whcrl it 'fa]ls' through a Potential
difference of one volt.
In terms of the more familiar units for mass and energy, the values ofthose
units ar€ as follows:
one unified mass udt: 1u = 1.660 x 10at kg
otre electron-voltl 1eV = 1,602 x 10-10.)
or one million eloctron-volts: l MeV = 1.602 x 10-13 I
This means that 1 kg of hydr(8en contains about 6 x 1025 atoms
To give some i[dication oI the energy units' nole that:
a 1 million eleclron'volts) is the kinetic energy ofa higb-speed
Mev (1

. proton or noutron
bavelling at about 30 million miles per hour
a tho ener8ies of the outer elechons of an atom, those involved in the
chemical chalges described itr Section 4.4, are lrsually a few electron_volis
I the kjnelic enerSy of the avetage atom of a 8as at room temperdlure [seP
section { 3)' also call€d ils tb€r1trtl energj' isabout0025ev-onelorlrplh
of aE 6l6cbotr-volt.

l.l a$-.nc18,
ChaDter 4 exDlairsd tbat lrlass and onergy are now reSorded as essentiallv tr!o
aspects oftie same quantirv, and thdi the msss_ener8y erpressed as an
ss a mass (m) inldlo8rams are
1Ei in loules and theiame mess-energy exprcssd
roiatei by Einstein's equation = mc2. Given that c = 3 x 1o3 m s-r this Bivesi
At the nucl€ar level, it is useful to have this relatiotlshiP in lerms o[ unilied
mas6 units (u) and millions ofelectron'volts (MeV) instead olldlograms
joules, Usi[g the above values of the MeV and u, we find that the mass-energ]'
g31 times its mass-eaergy expressed in
of a parucle"expressod in Mev is
unifiod mass units (u):
In other words, the mass of a single proton or neutron in ener8y terms
rs abn'_:

930Mev, and. the mass of au electron is about halfa Mev Box10'2shol\r

how this might be used.

l.6Z Radioactivity
r\ r;ar0lul Lrok at lherelaliveatomicnrassrrsshrrr!ninl:iBul()'l'11) Ie\ 'r_ ''
thc nunlbcls ol Protorls and le.tlLons tenrl to lre lrlual lilr lllt l rlht'

'l'he nuclcrrs ofcarb,rn, for lllslanc{r' his 6 l)mtorrs s(r i(s relirl:''' 1' :
, acq rrfrl,rrrr 12 nre.r)s tl).it it nrr!t lrir!a r, Drltlr.'rr! BLrt a! lrr' ir -''-
Itr:rrnre Ir,:aYi0r, .ttt ext:ess ol n{rLltrlrns i:all l)'] 5':rcn to tlclel'rr:' ) li _
(llgl lol itlstalrrr:e. \,\,ith atollli( Ilunlbcr llr), Ir'rs; Lrrl rtivr: il1'rrllic ll'

,rl)oLrt 20u so lheft mLrsl be 120 nerLtroDs dccornpan\rinq the 80 Protons.

\V.r can sor: h:hv this might be necessar): evcry prctorr repels ev€rrv olher
I)r'oton drLe to their electric charge, so the fbrces necdecl to hold thern
all togcthcr iDcrease steeply as their nunlber ris0s. As neutrons ha1'e no
"ler:tric r:harge and botb prokrns and neLrtroDs aae attracled to each
bv the strong nuclear force, nn)' inr:r'ouso in thc numbnr oI t]e(ttrons holps
t(J uraintain slahilitv. Evr:nlLrIllr,. hort'over, this is no loDge! possible, and
lrrr,,ond tlrc elonlent bismuth [83 protons and 126 neutlons) there ore no
!11ot t: sktble rlLtclei.

.\ll isotopes of all the elcments beyond bismu r are ladioactive. 'lheir
nuclei sponta[eously emit high-energy, electrically cl,arged palticles -
rvhich moans of course that they change into nuclei of a different element
(Fi3rres 10.4 and 10.5 show cxamples). Ifthls is so. is it that we find
rLranium (atomic number g2) stilL existillg ir the Earth's .:rDst'? [he answel
is thal it is decaying. but only very slorvly indeed, as described later.
Radioactivity was discovered by Henri Bocquerel in 1896, as an invisible
ra(liation'that could fog photographic plates. This was fii'tee!t years before
eren the idea of the nuclear atonr, but several imporlant lcaturcs r,vere
: -Jrrully re, ognized:
In maDy cases the 'radiatioh' decreases witll time. over.periods varying
liom seconds to years. In others it seems to show no detectable chatrge
dLrring many years of observation.
'l irc tvpc oi 'radiation' and its inteDsity
are cham(;tc sticofthecmitting
elorneut. Physical or chemical changes - heating, compressil]g, even
r.rnbining into rliflp-en, chemrcal rompoLrnds havp ncl et'[eet ot ull
on the radioactivity.

.\ftru Ruther-ford developed tlie idea of the ouclear atom, he was able to
ihor.v that radioactivity is a nuc,ledr process, and that there arc three main
l!pes of radioactiv0 emissioDs, easily distinguishcd bv their penetratlng
r)or! ers (Figure 10.3)


p ..............................i

Figure 10.3 PenerndnS powers of differem rypes of radiarion. Norc rhar neurrcns a.€
not ehirred in narural radioactivib/, but are rhowh here Ior.omparison because free
neufo.s pla), a maior rote in nu.tear reacto.s

Alpha particles
Aloba Daflioles (o-particles) at'e lhe ieasl pcnotldling being stopped Lr 'r
.Li", urn"t. , ao,iple of r nr h"' of arr'. or hrrmJn skrn ' 'l lrcv can' h' 'w cver'
,,."orrij.irio,rr t *ith haza-r'lradioa'.rivDsrrhsldnrjeentersthebodr -
ly inhalation or Ly ingestiorr in i.on'amirlal(d lootl or dr ink'
two protol'ts
Rutherford tdentified a-partickrs as helirun nuoler" consisting of
u,',Jit,ln n.uttont. ,nd Figur. t 0.n shon r thc prut e;s ol alpha emissiglhgrn
the DU!.leus of Rn_222 an isotoPe ol the rddioaclivc 8'rs radon'
whlclr nas
86 nr'otons. The loss of lwo protorts mcan s a redurtion ')[ lwoin the atonlic
,r,r-ber,sotheresultisanuil'usoIthemetallicelem"nt polonium
ir.r'"ri, to protons, two places lower rn the Periodic lable lFiSure 4 1s)'
,qi ,rr" ii.", tt e mass numher is reduced bv /our' which determines
tf,"-ir".ii""tu. i.ntope ofthe new element, Po'2'18 in this examPle

"jnn 1*" '!lto

Fi$re lO.4 AlPha emission from a rrdon'222 nucleut resul6 in a Polonium-2|8

(as in this casel so thal

The resulting isotope is often radioaclive in turn daushter
;;:;,iliiil,,;; ,J,ii" "'.nt'ullv eontains a whole series olradioaclitc
fl", t olompnts each with ils charactcristic
"..Jr"t",'airh;;";;ii p-ii.ltv po'"a a problem ror scienrists trYins to
i,l'i"rtijira ir,," p-";"ris oni'"nt"ln'u'ufelvissueforthosedealingwr'lt
raclioactive subitances (see Section 10'7)

Beta particles
lhrr) u Parlicles' but
Beta Darticles (F'particles) are more penctraling
il;'ffi;;";id;eJbvathi" of'neral or a few mjllinretro' of 'rlrrrost
'hecrqujcLly idcnlilied as elcctrons' ex'rcll)
rn.i.r,"1 tlisloiically thcv
"u, a few years ear)ier (s* s*]l:I.:,-o.l
i#.;;;;t those alreaiy dit"uu"'"'iNormal lrom ra(llodcrl\e
but with a qreat deal more energy B_patticles
but' like
H":;iil;#;ilt" inro tt'" iiln' causing tLnpleasant burns
*if f produce internal damage if lhe source is inhalo(l
^i"i"'""ttl"f"tl tlic'very encrgelrc p-parlrcle' proouceo
ll"t.,iJri"ilirci*"r"r,"nly rn. ntrr'rcar
.""at"o, aun d"ngerously penetraling'Y_rays os they deceleratc'
"rnit had lo wail some twenlY year s
An understancling ofthe origins ofp-emission wilh s'T,"-'-',11:
iu ir,rr"ri"ra'. ii.,,rre of in "tom as a positivn nucieus\{ere comrnB Irorn
B,,t ili"" tho discovcr! thsl thesc narticlcs
ii" ,,t.i*. deepened the mystcr\" How rould a
neBalive nlectrun
;:".:i;t"'.";; i;;'p.',,i"' l-"";'c"d the dev'lopnnnt o[ tlrc morc
' "'

drrl,lilcd pictrrrc ol a nucleus as a chtster of positir{) proloDs and neutral

oculrons didn t holp either.
Bl the 1920s, protiJlls, neutlons al1d eicctrons were regarded as the basir:
jndivisible partjcles ofall rnalter. But this neu'
evidence had to be explailed.
Enrission of the negative beta pa icle changes the el.ment to the nex| higher
ore in the periodic table, and, as Figuro 10.5 shou.s. tle Ioss of one verv
.rlhl elPClron rloe\ lol change the macs numbur {l :l I tn th js casel. ln othc;
l,orcls. whilst the atomjc number, the number of
lrrotons. has incleoseal
l)r oDe, the total nuutber ofprotons pius neutrons has not changed. So the
nunlber of treutrons must have decreosed bv one. Effectivclv, o;e neutron turned irrro a protorr by emi ing an electror lThis seemed to be the
orlv explanation, but confirmation (am. unlv in l9 t2 when iiee neutrons,
outside the nuclei ofatoms, were first detccted. Measurement showed that
the mass of.a neutron is indeed slightly greator than that of a ptoton, and,
morcover, that a frce neutrcn is mdiooafire, spontaneously turning into a
proton by B-emission. Ifthe masses are kno*n. the cnergyieleased"can be
r;irlr;rrlated (Box 10.2).

Dr. B r..
stl te

Figu re I 0.S Emission ol a b€ri panicte (an €tecrron) from an iodtne- I3 I nucl€ur resurB
in a xenon- l3lnucleus

sox fiom rEutron decay

I lor tnuch ener1), is releosed when a
free neutrcn decavs into o proton and
on electrcn?
Tha calculation needs reasonably precise values for the nrasses
ofthe three
neulror mass M. = 1.00867 u
proton mass Mp= 1.0072A u
elcctron mass m, = 0.00055 rr
The dilfereucc l:ct*eon the nrass oi the origilral neutron and
the toial nrass o{
rh ,*Ilrinq l,rurr.r ,.Ild p ,rdron r) rher,lor(.
I 00S6_ ll oo'2ar oooo55)- t.noa67 I nn-H3 nOUDrr4u.
Il llris spare mass appears irI tbe form of energy, the re]at,onship
in Box j 0.l
shous how mucht
,(MeV)= in(u) x 931 = 0.00084 x 931 = o.TaMcv
If all olthis becanxi kirDric €ner8v of the electron, ir would
bc ei€cred as a
perlet.aliD{i 0 parlicle rravelling at about throa-quarlers ot
ihe speed of light.

Gamma radiation
Camma rays (1'rays) woro discovered a feu: r'ears alier lhe otller t\'!olypes
nf.uaion.tivity, .ulnl-v ber;ause thcl' are Duch morc pcnetrating and thrrs
aitfi.rtt tn cle,iotr. When thel rrr:re identifiecl as verv short l\'avelength
1vuues, the,Y werc also called 1.radialion whilstthephoton
view ofraiiation led to d lhirll lerm: I'particles' lAll lhrcc of lht'se rranrcs
ar. currentiy aeceptable.) Canrrra radiation ic cssenliallv the samc as higlt'
.,r..n, X-ruv. (sec Fieure q 15l and has similar effe(ts on li\il'8 mallcr'
C^,ri-a oarii, les are itopperl ,'nlv bv several ccntimelros of lead or sleel'
or a lew feet of concrete ond logelher wilh neulrons thev a1s the chief
racliation hazard associated with nuclear technology'
Gamma emission doesn't change the numbers of protons or neutloos-
the nucleus. It is a settling-down process by which a nucleus loses surplus
f"11"*ing crl or p-emission, oi fission The nuclei before and
afte;diffe"ft""ng only in their energy, are called nuclear isomers'

Radioactive decaY and half'life

Tlre theory ol radioaLrrv.ty developed by-Rutherlord a1d h1s ltJu.1ie'r
drawn lrom
coll.ague irederrck Soddv rr) IqoJ is based on a con'lusion
their observations
to t,h,e nttrhl,nl-
Thp rate ot nlhich pafiicle' oe 'mifted $ propattionol
radtoact*e otofis PPScrl ot lhe ltm? ond is nol ollecle'l h| on\'atnL'r
icle chanBPs th: lu:.
As explained above, emittinB aD alpha or beta Parl "u'
tive atoms oI that l] Pe
io a diffcrent one, so il reduces the number of radioar
of radioact ir e ato nts
hv onp- The rate ofdecav ' I hP rale al which the number
ai n"".Iil"ll-
i;, **".,-it ,fr"t"f"re proport'onal to lhP nurlrhcr Prcsent tnal lPa(Ls
a" this numbet falls, the rate ol 'lecav also decreases_ d siltlalluD rrrr
tr\,hp tallingnyponcnlrel
'griwth shown in Iigure IO.6. l'l'hls ls lne lllvetse ur
expottenti shown ilr Box 14 )
measured bv specil'vrne lhe
The rate of fall of the radioacl'vity is usually 'l rIr'
he motc rapro
half-life: the I ime taken for half of anu camnle lo de(,rv.
10'6 shows Ihal lhe hdll-
rlp.av lhc shoner tre hall-life tnspeuiion oi FiSure
\t ith a
;; ,1 ,;;;;;.;; o,i,''i"n vnu non' Iociine'I 3 t i" al 9'Pmirrer
i,^lr-iii, u., days so hali of anv samplr: witl decov rrr E dal' ln tlrt nex'
haif ot lhrr
rentainrlerwilldecay in lhcllc\i 8'1 half nf lhu new rcmalnder
A.f,.,ncl .o" fullows.ofcour:c lh'rtIheraleofcmissionol dt's' riLe"
Lhis rale' Box 10'J
i"iirii, ,t,f," ,".pfe rs also becoming l0ss ut
,t.," ,,nit, nt rra,or.rivity and rhe half-lives ol solne isotope!'
The hcaviest' U'238'
Natural uranium consists mainly of three isotopcs
f- .r". ss%. Most of ihe remainder' about 0 72% or one.atom
in 140, is U-235, and a liny proportion' only 56bccn alorns 'o 'very t:rrllion'
ja U-Zga. te"u. more urnnium isotopes have delccte'l ln nuclpar
) All lh-cse
,ri"-r-*.r,'in.fraing U-2t3, discussed in lhe next sectiun one.s' 45o0
fi:";,:;;. ;i.;;iiue, but rh" lo,g l'al!lives oIth" threererm"itr milltorr ror
:::i;:;;;: I;il:;rs. 700 nrillion fbr I r'2't5 and a quar ol a

uiil+, *r,y.""
half-ltvp< i< thai i Prpc' o' "rAn'urr' *ir'ifi$'Jij$:T,?:TI,:
oi these"',pl*,
*-'-;;;;-u-r;; 11,1'il^,::i,l::,1,* *"" "':',) - r'-'":
would ha''e irad eqrro] anlounts of lhese two isolopes
-.L^..' .n^^,-lll:^- .,^."",d^











0 t5 20 25 30 t5

e 10.6 Radloactive decay curve ofiodine-l3l showing progresrive halvinEs

ilcsl|ring radioactivity
lioactive soulce can be characterized by the an activity of 100008q per cubic metre (uDdesimbl!
rer of particles it emils per second. This is its high for contiDuous exposur'e) requires no morc
gllr, measued j11 becquerels (Bq). A piece ol thaD two parts per thousand-millior1 million of
rial lvith an aciivity of l MBq is therefore emittinA iodine-131 in air
nillion particles a se.ond, and so on.
tic encapsulatod sources considercri safe lor school
x:cqut:rcl rephtced the eotlia unt fot lhe iaboMtories have activities of perhaps 100(10 Bq.
cth a'n'.c. thc (,t,ip tO. A on"-nn.
So is 10 000 Bq a safe ievel oI ra.lioactivity or not? Tho
:e $ould emit 3.7 x 1A10 particles o second, jsn
first answer is tbat it t a']eve]'but the strcngth ol
e canersion is very tau9hly 1Ci 40GBq or
= apa icular sourco. And scconrlly, salcty depcnds orr
| 30 ci.
= lvhol the source is and wlere it is. An encapsulate.i
10.1 shows the half-lives and activities of a few source used corecdy in the laboratory adds a negligibip
isotopes (mdioactive isotopes). Compa son oI the amount to the natural radioactiviiv that we all receive
raniun) isotopcs shows, as one would expect, that continuously: but 100008q ofplutonirun in a solub,e
r activitr leads to a shorter half-lile. To put the form entc ng thc bloodstream \^.ould be a !u'y dilierprt
D.O:rtext, note thati mdller. In assessin8 sdlcry - or J.Igpr s" i
need data of thc type in Table 10.1, but \{e also n.rx
e Sram is the mass of half a (drv) tea bag, and one informaiion oD tho resultinB doses a]ld thci efleds
crograrn is a rnillio th oI ihis
a speck oI dust These topics are discusscd in more dctail in Chapifr l.l.

e l0.l Half'liv€s and activirie!

uranium-238 Uranium-23 5 Plutonium-219 Strontiunr-90 lodine.lll

0 -a a 0 p
4.5 x l0' years 7.0 x 106 years 24 000 /ears 28 years 8.1 days

r'ity ot lg l2 000 Bq 790008q 2300 r.18q 5,3TBq 4600TBq

rfo. l0 000 Bq 0.819 0l3B 4Srrt 0.0019 pg 1.2P9
rma pa.ricles are also emirled al cass ex.ept
fc,ers to one tram o{ the named rrolope. and is the act, !y befo.e r has prod(ced
ke the un,rs: lpt (mifio8ram) ,s one m,llonch ol a t.rm aid lp8 (p'.o8ram) is one m llionth ofa mLc.ogra'n or 0- 'g.

As mentioDed above, the decay of a uraniuor isotope results iIt radioactiVe

(Lrughter products that i[ tum produce granddau8hters' aDd so on, unti] the
rlrlrnber ofprotons ard treutrons is sma]l enough to form a stable nucleus-
in each case an isotope oflead. (Section 10 7 discusses some consequeDces
of this sequence.l

An effect without a cause

lvhat causes a radioactive nucleus to emit a particle at a Particular
moment? The extraordinsry answer is that there is no immediat€ cause
Radioactivity, as Rutherford and Soddy recognizcd, is uniquely a tIu,y
rr;ndom process. If a sample contains, say, a billion iodine-13l atoms
vou can ionlidently predict tbat about half a billion will be Ieft after
eight days. But there ii absolutely no way to predict rrhlci atoms will be
left, nor when or whether a particular nucler:s will decay. This is not a
rnatter ofinadequate apparatus, or insufficient krowledge. The radioactive
dccay of an individuil nucleus is believed to be truly an offect without
a cause, and the consequ€nce is that we ourselves can neither cause nor
prevent it.
Uudesirable longJived radioactive nuclei might in principle be convcrted
individually into nuclei with shorter hatfJives by bombardment with
high-speed particles, but until such a system €xists, we can only keep the
material secure until enough half-lives have elapsed

164 Nuclear fission

Experiments with neutrons
The discovery of radioactivity provided a completely new tool fol the sludY
of matter. Firingthe particles naterials and observingtheir intelactions
\,vith atoms oi nuclei became one of the most Iruitful experimental
techniques of the twentieth century. Bombardment of ultra-thin gold foil
with o-particles led Rutherford to the colcePt of the atomic l]ucleus (see
Chaplei s), and it was his ex-student lames Chadwick, bombarding the
rrctil berylliun with d-particles, who in 1932 fhst identified free neutrons
amongst the products.
Neutrons proved to be by far the most eflective'proiecliles' for studving
ruclci. Being relativcly heav-v, they pass oasily through thc cloud of
eledrons sur-roundillB the nucleus, and bcing eleclricallv netltral they
are not deflected away by the positivc nuclear charge. Enrico FolD'Ii
(Figure 10.7) in Rome, workin8 his way throuSh some sixty diflerent
ele-"ments, discovered that firing neutrons at target atoms often caused
the larget to become radioactive, emittiDB 0-particlos. This mcant that
elenen"ts one place higher in the Pedodic table $'ere being Produced
(as discussed in Sectlon r0.31, and Fermi eventuali)' reached the
Lrltimate target: uranium, the heaviest known elem(]nt at that time lvhen
bombardment aeain led to g-Darticles, he conclurled thdl Ilc mLrst have
t,rndur:ed elernenls with at6rilic numbcrs Sreolea lhan 92
lhe so-calleo
transuranic elements. As shown in Tablc 4.19, these are actinoids But

stu(l\.ilrr\\fii anothct [osirlti (]ne ilint (:{)t!ld uccuriltelv bf r.llie'i

sliittcl irlg

. ir:n
i s e\peliDtents rvero soon repeatcd b-v others, including Ottcr Halur .utcl
UL-.itnor jn llerlin (Figuros 10.8 and 10.9). lclonlifi i[g the linv ant)unTs
,r llrrL\'lnaterials llroduced bl rleutroD itradiatiorl of rttanium '.r,ts nol
Lut e\'enlrLail."-. in 193u, a brilliant chemical ana lysis establishecl that
rn rT as ce|tainh one protluct (Hal-in irnd Strassnral)n, 1!)39). Hoil co'.ild
tg a lieutron lo uraniunl resLllt in this much sntrrl/er rruclerLs? llahli

Figure 10.7
Ennco Fermi (1901-1954) and his brother G ulio were science prodigies,
inseparablo until Grulio d ed at the age of 15. Enrico took refuge ln study'
teaching himsell from books found in lhe lobal flea maftet in Rome. At 17 he
won a fellowship at P sa, and by 1927 had made a majo. contribution: Fermr
statislics - the basis for modem theories of metals and semiconductors.
Turning to nuclear physics. he carried out lhe experimenls lhat led ultimately
to fission. Allwho knew hrm said Fermiwas truly unique. His leclures were
dazzling, a slream of new insights rather than slandard approaches.

Figur€ ,|0.8
Olto Hahn (1879-1968) sludied chemistry ln Germany, and worked with
Rutherford in Montrealbefore returning to Berlin. He disianced himselffrom
the German nuclear weapons programme, and in the poslwar yeaas
concenlrated on the peaceiul applications of radiolsolopes and fission -
including, in 1950, an analysis of the safety measures lhat would be needed
if nLclear power stations were ever bLilt

Lise [/eitner (1878-1968) studied physics rn Vienna bul moved to Berlin in
1907. Barred as a woman frorn the main Deparlment, she was aLlowed (as a
special concess on to Otlo Hahn!) to use a spare room on lhe ground floor
By the 1930s she was Head of Physics. BeLng an Auslrian citizen- she was
allowed lo continue desprte her Jewsh background, but the Anschluss
changed lhat, and in 1938 she left, travelling illegally and escorled by a
Dutch ,riend of Niels Bohr (Figure 10.'11 ). Declining to join the N4anhatten
Project, she stayed in Sweden until retir ng in 1960 to Cambrldge (UK).

wrote to Meitner, now a refugce in Stockholm,'perhaps you can srrBqest

some fantastic explanation' (translated fiom Hahn. 19681

Meitner was reading Hahn's letter when her DephelY Otto Frisch arrived
from Copenhagen to speDd Christmas, and in the next couple of dar s,
sitting in a small hotel, they found an explanation (Pais, 1991. p. '15{.
citing Frisch and Wheeler, 1967), The resulting paper lMeitncr ar]d
Frisch, 193s) proposed a mechanism by which a heavy mrcleus absorbing
a relatively sLow-moving neutron might become unstable and split il1to
two lighter nuclei (Fi8ure 10.10). They called thc process kernspaltrtngr
nucleir lission, and remarked that it should release a great deal oI energv
(Box 10.4).

I ,riu ,rrlu ,rrl,


€3C ro fissron. produclng two new radroactive nuclel, the fisson produccs- A few
free neurrons (n) and gamma radiaron ( /)
n (!ed n the p.ocess. and the fiss,on products are likey ro emit beta Parricles (D'

ll didn't take long for the news to spread. In Januarv lg39 Niels Bc'hJ
{l igure in New York on his way to Prillceton, mel Fermi J recently
10. I I ),
arrir ed dmigrd ft om fascist ltaly. Two week:' laler, at a physics conlpt en' e
in Washingirn, Bohr describedihe fissiou results. and Fermi suggested thrt
free neutrJns miSht be rFleascd in rhe pruces'' Everyonn kl)Pw lll'rt l')"-e
would bc surplus-neutrons (seo Box 10.5) bLll it did llol nececsdrily t;llL r\
that free neuirons would appear. ThP siEnificdnce of Icrmis suggesti' n
was immcdialely obvious to his alldience. Neulrons cause lisslon' so a
neutron could cause a further fission' and more than one hee neubon from
(Figr e l0',1 -)'
ea( h iission event could produce a divergenr chain reaction 'r
with only lhousandths oIa second between elenls thu resull would l-'r'a
very greai deal of enetgy in a very short time a nuclear cxplosion'
This suggeslioil threw the meetjnB inln n uproar lvhile Phy'rri'ls
who h#facititins initialed calls lo their laborclorips lo slarl lhF
search for fission neutrons'
(Manley, 19621

lirL ir Lla!. ,'ission lppcarecl 1.,r the tlrst tirlc in the nolvs heacllincs
riu a ycur a huudred papers trad beeu published in scieutific iounais
.iuring that vear th€ Second lVorld lVar broke out.

y lrotrr li$ion
rculating the ener8y
ras ni)t necessary for l\'leitier al1d Frisch lo wait lbr measurem-onts of lhe
rgv reieased in fission. The masses oI individual atoms and the tleutron
re knolvr quite accurately by the 1930s. so the total masses belore aod
rr the fission could be calculated by the method used in Box 10.2. The
ial rDass is that of the U'235 nLlcleus plus the initiating neutron. Thc final
rs is the sum ofthe masses of the duclei of the two fissiou products plus
masses ofanv spare free neutrons. Ifthe final nrass is less than the iritial
is, the clillerence must be the mass-energv released io the process.
r lission of U'235 can load to many outconles, *'ith differenl pairs ofnew
ilei and difierent numbers of free neutroDs; but calculations ghoived that -
average the final ass was less than lhe initial mass by slightly over one-
r of an atomic mass unit - about 0.21u.
described irl Box 10.1, EIMeV) = rn(u) x 931, so the energy rcleased bv the
version o[ 0.21 u will be about 2o0 MeV per ff$sioD.
s is onll'about ll.2 x 10-1r joules, which nray seem very small, hut ihe
iurc changes if \r'e consider not one atom but ono kilograru.
Ir ktonl ol t -:35 h.j a robss olapproxiu.arelr 235 u.
ce I u = 1.060 x 10 17 kg (see Bo\ 10.11:
js of oDe atom ol U-235 = 235 x 1.660 x 10-27 kB = 390 x 10-" k8.
)re are thus approximateiy 2.5 x 1o2a atoms iD one kilogam of U-235, so the
r8y released in its complete fissioo is:
E=2.5x1O2\x3.2, 10 11, = 80 x 10r'z, = 00TJ per kg is equal to the energy released in burnint about 30OO tonnes of coal! Fi8ure l0.l I Niels Eohr
e howevcr that, as explained above, less than one per cent of natuml ( 1885-1962) was born inro a

nillm is l.l-235. Most ofthe rest, as we shall see, does not undergo fission. {amily ol academics and bznkers.
He a.tended Cop€nhagen
tributint the enerty U niversity, where he late.
established rhe worldJamous
urning to the individual fission event shown in Figure 10.10, what lnstitute of Theoreical Phyecs
,pens to the eoergy that is rcleased? The answer depends orl lhe details of
He applied the ideas of Plafck
process, but (,n average the energy is distributed as follows:
and Einstein to Rurhedords
r4rrre thaD [our-fifths ofthe 20oM€V is carried offas kinetic eneBy of the n!clear arom. and the reluhrng
lvo ftsslon producr truclei. Collistons lrlrh su$ounding atoms eventually 'Bohr a(om was a remartable
r..listribrte rhis energy as hcat. imag nadve leap. He was in la.t
ust under 30 MeV is accounted fbr by gamma rays, beta particles, etc.
. remarkable man:an aooallinry
bad lecturer who was revered
ior e of these ure very penetratirg and lhcir energy may be 'lost' out il1to
and loved by studenG and
hc surroundings.
colleagues alike For many
\hout 5 MeV becomo6 the kinetic €nargy of th6 fi6e neutrons. theoretlcal physicrlts in the
mrd'cwentieEh cen.ur/, Boh. wi,
s lhird ilem lyas to become extemely important in practice. A neutroD
a Sreater inllueice even than
I kinclic energv of an Mev or so travels at a very hith speed (see Box 1o.1),
Eansrein.with whom he shared ,
as discussed belo\r'. those fast neutron6 produced in the frssion prccess
mutual respect and affe.!on
vr,(l r)ot tr) bL. idcal 10r Nnning a nuclear rcactor.

tl,u fission neutron


FiSure tO. t2 An explosive chain reacnon Suppose rhrr a fre€ neuron rnioates rhe iiE; fission {left-hand Panel) rnd that two
neurons from this initiate new fisiioni (centre panel). and thar on averate two neutrons from each of these niiate lurther
frsion, tiSh!-hand pan€l),and so on. Muhiplyint the so.cesrive genemrions in rhis way at int€rvals o, a {ew millisetondt rhe
gower ouQut.ould meSawatts in less than a tecond (Note that this needs a verl hiSh concentralioi of U 2l5 )

A uranium-2 3 5 nucleus underSoes fission into tt\'o new nuclei U one al these .
ptodticts js boium, whot is thi other, and how m(ny sutPlos netttons sho ld
rcsultfrcm this pracess?
The atomic numbers ofuanium and barium are 92 and 56 resPectively So
the atomic numbor of tbe other elemcnl must be 92 minus 56 i o 36' This
is the gas krypton.
Suppose now that ihe producti are the heaviest stable isotopes oflhese two
elemonts. The first column irI Table 10,2 shows the mass DuDbers (prctons
plus neutrons) for these, and subtmctlng the numbe$ of Prolons Sives the
iiSures in the third column. InsPection shows that the original U-235IlLrs thc
initiating neuton provide lwelve more neutrons than arc needed by the lwo
product elemeflts.

Tabl. lO.2 The.spare neutrons in lirsion

Nu'nber of neutrons
u-215 92 l4l
8a-ll8 56 82

Kr-86 36 50

Ba- l18+Kr-85 91_ r32


This calcuiation is misleading, ho\^,eve:, jn assumirg thal the product

nuclei havc their nornral ratio ot neuir'ons to !rctons. In pradice ll)ey aLnosi
alnnvs sta \!ith too mant n€utrors, aud this has turo extremrly inrpo tlnl
consoquences Firstl],, il moans thal the numbcr ofli"c neutrons available lbr
thc (fiarr roaction is no1 twelv.-, but p€rhaps tulo or i])Iee. And secondly, it
rnonns that lhe new nentron-heav! nuclei arc likely to be mdiodclive. They
arc ofien ll..miiiors, hecause emission of a pl)a icle reduces the neutron-
proton mlio (seo Section 10 2) Thel: also usualli' sta wiih excess energy. so
femission is common.
Bdrium an,l krWron aro nol lhp orrly possiblo producrs ol the liision ol U-235.
Other pahs ofelements have been detected, but this example is typical in thal
the splii is usually asynlnetrical, with the atomic numb€r of one product in
lhe nid filties and the olher in the mid-thirties. It is also typical in thar rhc
[ission pmducts are usually highly mdioactive

i9-!9-1945: reactors and bombs

This book is conceroed with tbe confrolled use of energy. Explosions,
rr hether c hemical or nuc ledr. are outgrde irs scope: bul lhe dpvelopmcnt ul
nuclear rveapons required the deveLopmeot of nuclear reactors, and these
certainl-v are relevant.
The lheoretical possibility oI a fission weapon was evident to everyone after
the Washington cot1ferencc, but anv scieDtists, including Bohrand Fenni,
|emained sceptical about its practicability. Bohrhad establish ecl that it was
the U-235 isotope thatunderwent fission, but, as already djscussed, in natural
Lrranium everyU-235 atom is 'diluted' by about 140 atoms ofU 238. Although
oD avcrage two or three ftee neutrons are produced i[ each U,235 fission,
rnanv ofthesc high-energy/ost neu,Ions (see Box 10.e) are absorbed by the
I.I 238 isotoFa or lost in other processes In natural utanium, this leaves on less than one neutrcD available to ioduce another fissior:. .9o o choin
rcaction using last neutrons in notutal urunium is impossible.
Onc soiution Tr,ould bo to increase the proportion of thc tl 235 isotopei
l)Lrl producillg this enriched uranium is nol simp]1) lsee Section 10.7], and
cven if highly enliched uranium could be achieved, some free neutrons
rvould still be lost in processes that did not lead to fission or by escaping
out lhrou8h the surfac-". This sccond poirt is very impo ant, because the
propo.tion that escape depends on the srze of the piece of uranium. We
can sec this by considering two blocks of cnricheil u{anirun, identical in all
respeuts except that biock A is siSnificantly small-"r lhan block B The greater
sizo of B means that a fast neutron created by fission will on average spend
a longer time in reachinS the surface than a similaL neutron in block A, a!1d
r'r'ill lherefore have a better chance of making a fissioa-inducing collision
u,ith a U-235 nucleus before it escapes.
iu gr:Ireral tl,eD, if urarriLrln with axy partir-ular r-onuertldtiulr of U-235 is
assembled into lar8er and larger blocks, a point rnay be reached where ou
avera8e just one neutron ftom each fission causes another fissioD, sustainiig
0 chain reaction. 'fho mass of material thai just reaches this poinl is called
lhc critical mass for uranium \,1,ith that degree clfenrichmcnt There are of
(ro[rso oth0r neLrlrorl 'losses' and in some cases the crilica] mass is Dever
rear:hed. ln nalural uranirm, u,ith loss tban oDc per ccni U'235, tho total

neutron loss rale oluoys cxceeds th{r ral{r of production. no mattcr how large
the bkxrk. So, as mentioned above, a chain rcaciioll usjng last Deutrons in
Datura) uranium is not possible.
'lhere was, however, another option. Iremi had shown in the 1930s that
slou,ing clown the fast noutrons made them much ]nore iikely to initiate
fission, increasing the chances ofa chair reaction, and this lvas the method
he used in the first reactor (see belowl. But the main problem at the time
rvas the iack oI the experimcntal data n eeded to assess thc possibi litics. I he
scientisls in the USA persuaded Einstein to writo to President Roosevelt
(Einstein, 1939). to which he responded positjvely (Presidert Roosevelt,
lg3g). and in February 19ao ttte sum of US$000O (!) was made available
lor fission research,
Meanr.vhile, in EnBland, otto FIisch and Rudolf Peierls at Birmingham
Univelsity wcre using the available data and inspired guesses to tackle the
issue oI $itical mass. They concluded thar for pure'100% U 235, about
one krlogm,l would be enough.
At that poiflt we stared at each other and realized that an atomic
oumb rniBhl alter rll bP po-r,hln.
(Pais, 1991, p. 4giJ. quothg Frisch, 1979)

They presented their results in two memora[da (Frisch and Peierls, 1940a'
1940b1, including the idea that an explosion could be achieved by rapidiy
bringing to8ether two sub caitical masses of U_235. Their value for the
critical mass prcved rather optimistic, but even ilten times this was required
(which proved to be the casel, it would still bc practicable
By 1941, Sroups iD sevelal count es had projects for the construction of a
contmllabie nuclear reactor {ca-lled at that lime &n atomic pile in the UK,
uranium-pile in the USA and Uranbren[er in Germany). Everyone kneh'
that a susiained chain reactioD in natural uraniulrl might be possible. And
evelyone kncw that the others knew.

The first reactor

By 1941, Fermi was workin8 on reactor developmenl at the UniveJsily.oI
Clicago. ln Britain, the Maud Conlmittee, set uP to consider thc Frisch-
Peierli conclusions, expressed confidcnce tlat a bomb was possiblc, and
thcir reporl lMaud Report. 1941) was Passcd to the sciDntists in America'
On I Oatober the President nade lhe decision io throw Lhe huge I0sources
of the USA into the developnrcnt ol an 'aiomic bomb . On 7 December. the
Japancse attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered
tho war'

The bomb programme, now called the Manhattan Proiect, became a )ojnt
allied effori and most oi the scientists working on it in the UK, inclr'rdin8
manyrefuSees ftom Germany and occupied countdes, crossed the Atlantic'
The Chicago group and a Canadian-Brjtish-French team in Monlreal
uorked on;xperimeDtal reactors; the main site for weapoDs devclopmenl
was Los Alamos in New Mexico ald there werc reactors lbr plutoniull
production (see'New fissile lruclei , belorv) clscwherc in the USA
In Chica8o on 2 llecember 1s42, by carefully pilinS uP lurnps of uranirlnl
metal, sirrounded by graphile to slow down the fasl noulrons, and wilh
strips of cadmium (a neL,tron absorber) tD control the process, the Fermi

team a.hicved criticalit! -lho first controllcd chair rea iion (Figurc 10 13)
The N'lo)-rtreal reactor and plutonium-producing react ,rs elsewhere in the
llSA follorved.'lhe Ccrmao proicct includ0d a plant in occupiod No.iir'ay
produr:ing hoovy watcr. coDtainin8 the hydlogen isotnpc dcuteriunl, but
they still had no operertional reactor at the eod of the 1tar. Unknown k)
the.{}lies. it had been decided in 19.12 to continue thc ruclear work on a
snrallsr:alr: onlv.'lho docisioD was nlflde br th{r politi ians, bLlt the extent
Io uhich thc Gcrrnan scicntists, Ied by We|ner l{eiseirberg. were aclively
pursuing the deveiopment of a weapon has remained the subject of debate
ever since- (For more on graphite and heavv water, sec Box 10.6.)

fiss on 2 fssion 3

n fission carbon neutron

FiSu I
re I O. I A conko lled chain reaction. Some of the hsr neurrons released in the firsr firsion (left-hand panel) are slowed
down in collis ons with carbon nlclea lusr one ofthe resuiting slow neutrons causes a s€cond lission (centre panel), and jusr one
from $j3 causes another (right-hand panel). mainraining a seady chain rerction, even in natural uranium. (Th€ many U-238 nu(le
are not shown in the diaeram.)

BOX 10.6 l.loder.toE

The material that slows down the neuhons in a reactor to maintain the chain
rc ction is called lhe modemtor. The main requirement for alr efficient
modemtor js that it should rapidly reduce the speed of the neutrotrs without
absorbing them. 1he best mod€rators havg light atoms - Ior a sirnpl€ reason.
Ifa fast neutron collides with a stationary object ofsimilar mass, such as a
liSht nucleus, it will share its en€r8y, reducing its speed; but if it collides
with a much heavier nucleus it will be deflected without much change in
speed. [Compare the result oI a fast-moving ball tsaring striLing an identical
stalionary ball bearing, and the same ball bearing stdking a statiodary
cannon ball.)
.7Lonnbtt'slu!1ding orisin9 from its name is thot lhe moderator
in some iaty teduccs the reactor o\tput. ln foct, by noderoting the neLttrcn
speed. tt increoses lhe tale of lission.

Tho notlerator atun is never cornpirLeiy stationarv at the ttme a ]t'iuIon

collides with it. Like all alonr' it ruiil alwa-vs have thermal energ! iBo\ 10

end tlle res lting slow neuh'ons lviil also carty tl s rcsidual enelgl '

are often referrei to as ihermal neutrons and tho reactors ofvirtual\'al]

curlenily operatiig nuclear Po',v0r plants are ofthis tl/Pe called thermal
lission reactors.
A number of dilferent types of nloderator have boen used since the first
ed,ror Hvdrneen.hor.rii t.,A ". t ",, ,' t"t''. a 'in8lP Proron' 1" dlnro't th"
5amnmdss as;ncuron and I ha' rh'udranrageoih rn8Icadil\ d\arlablP
llr rb. torm of ordinory w.l.r lull"'' . uf"rred to a5 liShl water in r\;' L onr"\l )'
Unfortunatelv, however, rath.r Ih,n lu.'l colrrdrnS and slowrng dof,n' d frcc
,"^al "."rl,ne wi L.rnr .v lable prorurr to lorm a nen Jrrt ele'
'fhe conseoucnl neullon lus: menni lhal Iighr waler 'dn only be use4 a<

m,r.ierrtor;f en-richpd uranrum rs u\'o os the hrel'

The poflr, le lormeJ by lhe conrhin,:_ion of a proto-l and I nPufon

i'{ alled
il hvdrogcn nucleus' dnd lhP
a deuteron Having iusl onp pruion musl he a
nuclo;s ol the isotope hvdroscn 2'
;-J*;;;;; ;;""i,rn mea'ns that it is the
idual narn"'
i,;t;;"1" i;; h;;;s;n i,orou* "na tnei' n'( rcr ar' siven indr!
i"i,",r*"-z it"ulerium. h\ 'rroSen-j is tritium and irc n' r l' u\'
' in',iineof on" ptoron and ir.nn"ulrcns rs d triton'
1 atom in 7000 oi natural
Deutelium occurs natutally, accounting for about
i"J,"""- rt is an excell"ni mLrl"r"lur ldirlv light' ond with rhe 8'edj
thar rhe collidinSI.crrrrcns don t rombine
wirh deLrlPron r'l rflP
"r;; ;;fl;;; ;;i*(D,oJl;'' "n t' an ive risurd modPraror'nd Lhn
lou neutron los5 means that r\' "rre"r
rFd' tor can u<e nalural uranlun lll"l wllrr,ur
i;;;;; ;;;,i.h'.;"r. Anotnp- rdvaoras' hator i' th 'r the-e i' plen'r of watet
involves sepdrd'ron oI-.
rn the wofld How"ver. e\tr"-tina he hFavv -,
-0U0 meanq thd' up ro lFn tunncs o: harar mu'r
isotoOes, and the one p. l in
b. processcd for av"ry kiloBr"n of hea\-v waI"r'
[t can b" ohtdneJ
The moil easilv svdilablc elle' I rtje modpralor is cd-rbon'
i;';;;,:;;;"i;il ; ilprriie -,,a "rrr'o,.'"t' i* nu is
reu' is cons'd'raLrt
low' so il (an br u'ed {ith
heavier rhdn a deutemn. it, n'utron ao'oririon rh" wo ld''
i,riri"i *"",,*. i" *e hav" "*pn thi' wis Fermi s were ' horce for
in use \tilhin
it."i.i""-, t"i"iitr,r" moderators rlescribed above
lew vears.

New fissile nuclgi

Fermr's r laim ,n Lhe lglOs rh' h' had 1' ndu' 'd transuLat':,
al o Lvrprtrrr'r rIJi
wer. far loo small lor ldenri[i'aIion' but Habn

ursn r'r.r
,1" result when lhpv eslaoll5hcd lh" presenc' -'Jl .d
rsorooe rhat pmrlted B p,rrlrclPs. As shown in Figure
Irr.) o-enlr::illl
uranll'ln tllt
rrrcre'ase*th"oromicrrumberbr"rre,'"0pnli5sior lrom l:-:li
'o urrrI
.rre elernont rvith atorn iu llmbpr 9J. WhPn lhis in lurn wa' Iorno
t.., "
i;;;;;,,;i;"ni ,t e4 was arso being prod.ced'
i:;;,;;;;;, ", "t"",""'
Product.on ol llle\e r\^o lrr \\ cl'lnPn'c ln qll
rnlilie(iust l' r' ' -rouBrr'nt
achieveci in rs41' and rb-] \vPr."
.;;::;i;*l;;'. i,o. 'rirnrrs
i"p*"ir. and plrrlr)nium l'rll(-r rhe prdnPls b"\ "n'
""a., Iionisillrrsl-'rl'1JtnFt'''rr tll'll TIr|
Ihe'ro'r,'nc' l"rdingroth"rrpr "lur ps
iiI:,:;'i:';"'':;';;;;; ;';i"' \.,,'rnD'hu. h'conrins rr'|p

]]]9 _
Figure 10.14 Production of plutonium 219 from uranium-238

heavier isotope uranium-239. This is radioactive, emitting beta particles

(electrons) As we have seen, the result ofbeta emission is a chan8e ioto
an isotope of the next -hlgiesl elen1elrt, irI this case neptunium-z39. This is
also zt beta en1itter. so the plocess is repeated, producinB plutonium-239.
tsoth U-239 aDd Np-239 have rclatively short half-lives (about 20 minutes
aDcl trvo clays respectivell') but Pu-239, a)though also radioactivc. has a
hall-life of about 25 000 years. So bombardment ol U-238 with ncutrons
lcsllts in a stcady build-up of plutonium: a process cailed breeding. The
discol,crv oi this process leading to the production of plutonium was not
anronncec'l to the world at large, and the reason for secrecv was obvious.
As had been predicted on theoretical grounds, plutonium-239 is /jss e.
A fissile uLrcleus is one that undergoes fission relativell, easily - absorption
ol a slor,v neutron is suflicient. The only naturally occuning fissile nucletLs
is ll'235. PlLrionium does not exist in nature. excepl perhaps in minute
(iuar)tities {Box 10.7), but is produced as a side effect in all Lrran iu reactors.
Isotopes likc U-238, that can lead to fissiie isotopes alter absorptioD of a
lleutron are called fertile, and aoy reaclor containing U-238 will neccssarily
pro(luce soDle pluloriiurl. However, /osr neutrons arc the ntost effective
in irlitiatiDg breeding. so the wartime plutonium-producing reactors had
to nlainlaiD a fine balance between the slow neutrons required lor a chain

BOX 10.7 A n.tu..l reactor

Sorl!r 2000 milljon lroars ago several/natural nuclear.rcaclors spoDtancouslv
dchroved criticality. 'fhe evidence is slill there at Oklo in Cabon, lvesl Afiica,
in the fbrm of stable isoiopes rcsulting from Eillions of years oldecay of the
fission products.
llow co\rld a sustained chain reaction have happened iD natural uraDium?
The lirsl important point is that U'235 decays much faster than [J-238-
Althorgh U-235 accounts fbr only one in every 140 atoms o{ natrual umnium
todav. trvo billion vears ago it u,as about o e in 30 - in today's terms, about
39f enririh-.d ulanium. Sccondly, the local orc was particularly ch in
uraniumi and llirdly, \vak)r was preserl jn ihe area lo act as moderaior
Ills esl;nrale.l thrt ihose reactors opemtod for abollt two million years and
mat havl) accumulate(l about seven tonncs of radioaclive w^ste products,
in(]luding piutonium. '[hese of conrse decayed in turn, and after a [ew
million yoar lhs remaiDing plulonium would p€rhapE havo amounted io on€

I .,

.:_, t.

h tecond pilecomplex
b lefinery for crude u ran ium
c chemr.aland meta ltu rg icat work k separating pl.nt tor isoropes
d complex of ura nium piles fo. prepaldrro n ofptuo^rum I manufactueof ba6frompureorcon.envated U-235
m re.ond power stataon
f ra(tory fo.the 5eparation orrhe plutonium fom€d andfssio. products n possible rubsidiary for making se(et weapon5
g PreDaration oI pure pluroni!m o factory for makinq ..dioacive conpounds

igure l0.l5 A larte aromic ener$/ ptanr oi the fucur€,as for€seen in t945 (source:red.awn from Hahn. tgSO)

r ils woapons in reactors of a different design, using natural uranium.

re Calcler Hall power station. inaugurated in 1956, was sited near two
isting phrtoDium-prorlucing reactors at WiDdscale (now Sellafield) in
lnrlrri . alld its reaclor was a development of their design. Operatod
thc Llnite(l Kingdoln Atomic Energv Authority (UKAEI), iG maiD
rpose u,as still phrtonium productioD, but the UK was able to claim
r world's filst /trrge-scdle nuclear power station, supplyiDg 90Mlry of
r'\,er to the grid.

( un.rr,'^t fission reactors

rrtclc,rr I),rwpr slatirn rs in n)"r\, respccts simildr t!, i c"al-iired plarrl
(lhrpr.r 61. hllt i thrs (jdsn rho steam generatorc (also called boilers)
rlrrr rrrg st,,rrrr [,,r tlr,) tllrhu-g*r,.irtors r:sr, ho,rt liol]r ir ltcl,,ar t.d,.lor

'l his tn irgs lln'lLr1theI signitr.arrl (litt{,r1rru. rr .rl riirr(rtrgh it is conrnlon to

speali ol burDins nuLl,rrr hrtrl, tLis is rI0t.r LL ,llr]'..,j procdss ard docs not
pioclLL.:e carbou a sLrL)jurl l.r \'l clr " - r' lrjiri in tl1{r nc\t ..-hdPrtr'
\,larlv (iiffercnt reaclor rk'signs hrire L, err irlr l' r,''l in tlrf sPl'orrl\ !(raIs
sin.j; the lirslnuclear plrrnts, aotlabtluthall L.l zrc har c comu inlo ttse
at valious tinles. Nearlv atl ha!t LLsed theulr.rl ii'.11'n redctors (lloxes 1{)'6
and 10.81.

li is wnrth noling the two trsQs ofrhp wnrd lhemrl nllnrrnle'rFowcr

stations, like ihe iossil fuel Piants, use hot steam lo d ve their turbines
and are therefors .hermo, powerstotions in the sense introduced in earligr

Al th€ time of writing (2010), virtually all operational nuclear power stations
use thermsl fissionr;actors usitrg modorators (Box 10.6). so thoyare'thermal
power stations usin8 rhermal roactors'.
Fost neullon rcoctors (descibsd in Secliotr 10.81 do not require amod6ralor'
Th€ nsuuons ar€ thus not G€rmalized Pow$ stations using thess leactors are
therefore lhemal power stations usinS last neutrJn reactoB'.

The basic requirsment for a controllcd chairt rLrnction is that on average

one ucutron from eacb fisEion should iDteraci with auother fissilenucleus
to iDduce a further fission. Less thalr one neutmn and the reaction will
fizzle out; more tlan one and it could quickly develoP enou8h heat to
melt the structure. There are therefore four essential conrponents in any
thermal fission reactor: lhe t'uel. a moderoto., the coolonl and a confro,i
s/srern (FiSure 10.16). We'll look at each of these, the main safety factors
and efficiency, before turning to a few specilic reactor tyPes cu entl)'
in us6.

Figure 10.16 The €ssenthlfeatures of a thermaLlisrioi reactor

The reactor

A nurnber of early power plants used nolu?oj fuel, bul ost of
these have reached the cnd ofthcil productivc Iiir, and the remai[irrg l-eu',

ljke Irore r'ecen{ designs. rro!1 use eorichcd Lrrauium, with [J 2:r5 c()utent
botwocn 2olo tnd;o1,.
Thr: 1\\'o olher kno\vn iissile nucloi rnontioned in .Ncr,r, fissile nuclei, above
have both Leen userl as minor componL,rrts together with the uranium-
2lJ5 iri reactor fuels Plutonium 239 is brod in any uranium reactol., as we
have seen, but can also he aclderl as a componetrt of the fuei. Altlough
plulonium does not exist in nature. there are loday many potential sorrrces.
The spent fuel removed from a reactor inevitabiv stiil contains some ofthe
Dlutoniunl l-,red drtrinB ir. use. and rcprnr cssing this i. one optio . Therr
there are the manv tonnes of plutonium potentially becomj;g available
\,r,iLh thc decommissioning of nuclear weapons. A further opiion is the
usc oI thorium. As desariLed above. a fast noutron teaction with this can
hroed the fissile isotope Lrraniunr-233. Theso possibilities ale described
lurther in Chapter 11.
IJraniLlm reactorf[el is usua]lv in the lbrm ofthe oxide U(J2, a hard c-"mmic
suitable for forming into pellets. lf ihe fuel is to include plutorium, tliis
cal,l be in the folm ofp]utonium oride, Ptror. In this case the fuel is called
a nixed oxide, or MOX. The fuel pellets must be contained in a Way that
allows : eplacernent ofbatches ofspent fuel. and the fuel rods, the containels
or claclding holding the fuel, are usually metal tubes. Steel, the obvious
r:hoicc, is excluded in most cases due to its high neubon absorptiol, so
otlrer rnetallic alloys are used, as will be showD in the accounls of reacior
lvpes helow.
A typical reactor might hold in the order of 100 ionnes of fuel, a third
of this being replaccd cvcry year or eighteen months. 'I he resulting heal
output ofsome 2-3GW would besufficient forturbo generators supplying
600-1000MW ol electric power. The firels for specific reactors a.{l firi)l
Inodrr.tion are dis(iussed in Scctions 10.6 and 10.7.

'fhe frLnctioD of the Drodcrator in a nuclear reactor has been described in
llox 10.6, and the Iact that many preselrt-day reactor types are iderltified by
the moderator they use is an indicator ofthe inlportance ofthis choice. As
urill be shown in Section '10-6, the maiority of the world's present nuclear
plants havc light water reactors, with ordinary water as moderator, and il'te
nrajn allematives are heaW water reactors. The third moderator, graphjtc,
has been used in reactols cleveloped in thc UK and insome Rr.lssian plants
Iur tiru reasons discussed in Box 10.6, both graphite and heavy water iverc
rrriginally choseu to allow the use of natual uranium, avoiding the nec.l lbr
oDrichmcnt; brtt as mefltioned abovc, near]y all cunenlly opemling reactors,
ir(:lrding lhese types, now use fuei with somc degree of enrichment.

I he coolant is the heflt exchairge rnodiunr: the fluid - liquid or gas - that
rirrrics heal liom the reador corc. ('Ihe namc, rather inappropriat{i iD a
s\,s{enr whose rnai purposc is 1oprca/.rcehcal, rcflectsits original iunction,
rr.lrir:L rvas to pre\rent ovorheating irl reaclors designed tbr plutoniunl
produ(1ion.) A signilicarlt advantage of a /iquid moderator, whelhcr heaYy
\,!ater or normal (liBht) water. is that it can also acl as the .oolant. Craphitc
rs of ( rLLlrse a soltcl so a Sraphile nlodelated rcnctol rl:qLtires a dLlferent
. late.i,tl .ls (r,,olnnt. Sorne l!pes. includilrg lhoso rlevr:l,rperl in the t K. usr:
.drbon lioxide gas-

Controi system
Routin, .ontrol of the heat output of a rea(:tor is achioved by designing lor'
a slightil irrcreosirrg rate of fissioo but ircorpolating a neutroD-absorbing
materi;l in the svstem. Caclmium ancl boron are good absorbers. arld the
reactioi iran be conlrolied by increasillg or decreasing the amount ol lheso
prcsent in Ure reactor core, either by adding absorber to the moderator or
with control rods that can be moved in crr out (or by some combinatio[ ol
these and other uethods). Another aspect of control is the ability to deal
wilh ei (rnts such as an unplanned increase in the rate of fission, and all
reador. need to incl de systems for rapid responsc to such emergencies.

Certain basic requiaements determiDe the general form of all the reautors
discussed here. The fuel mustbe distributed at the right de4sity, surlounded
by the modemtor and in good thermal contact with the coolant. The coolant
must st:eam freelV past the hot fuel and for maximunr plalrt efficiency musl
attain thc highcst possible temperature, which implies a high pressure
This has a rrrajor effect oo the design bocause, as meutioned above, steel or
other sh uctural materials will absorb neutrons. The metals magnesium and
zirconiurD are oflen used in rcactors because of theiJ low neutron capture.
Onlv thos e ,eactors withvery low neuiron lo$s in themodemtor and coolant
can alford to have individual pressure tubes carrying thc cooiant. Itr most
designs, the whole core is submerged in the flolr,ing coolant in a sinel{i
large pre;sure vessel.
It is v,,orth cooside ng lor a rnoment the interior of the reactor cora. The
coola-nt musl not orrrrf\ loo tlur.h spdre. whtrh mr.rns that.l mu.t l,p
[luwirrg l"cv Ias' il it is to carry away thc BiBawa s oI heat. So a vpr] hoi
fluid strearns at high speed and high pressure through narrow gaps and
channels past thc fuel rods, subjecting materials to mechanical stress as
well as the combined ef{ecls oftemperaturc and pressure, chemicalattack
and bombardment by sub-nuclear particles. The designer nrust ellsurc that
even under these conditions fuel rods do not distorl, control rods can movo
heely and nothing impedes the flow of coolant.


The colnbined effect ofradioactive fissioD products and the radioactiviiy

inducecl ilr stmctural elemenis by neulron bonbardment brings thc
radiation inside an operating reactor to aboul one trillion (10]r) timcs tho
l6\,€l th3t a p€rEon cotLl(l toicrato fo. evcn a short tinrc. Withoul 3hieldinS.
a safe' distance ior working would be about eight kilometres away l So this
is obviously an itlrportant aspect ofrcactor design. As shown in I'igure 10.3.
thc t1!o rnost penetrating components are neutrons and ganma radiation,
so the shielding needs to be both a good neutron absorber and thick enough

1o Jtop the rrrer8ctic ganr]rra parlicles Il LLsrrall\consisisolathi.kla]erof

conarete. and iI lhe st stnrD also has a sl"el l)lessLlre vessel, th is lvill absorb
nlrr.h ol thc Sanlrna raLliation.

The safe containment of the raclioactivc material itselI is obvious]v
I mPortant. hP hrgh prpss' rr" r,qu Ir ps ph, ,lh <rrong, ontait rl."r r. anri
as nlentionod above. this is o[ten achie\ cd bv su$ounditlg the enlire corc
hl'a stroo6; pressure vessel. The fissioD !rcducts will include radioactive
sascs. so containing tlrese and monitoring thcir emission from the plant is
an ill1portar)t aspect of routine operaiioD FinallV, the containment system
should be rlesigned lo safeguard persoloel in the plant atd people in the
slrrroundings in the case of'non routine events'.

A rrrain soulce oI public.oncem about the safety ofnuclearreactors is the
potential for the release ofr.ery large quantities ofradioactive substances.
which can occrlr onlv if the containment fails Major structural failure
during nornral operatiorr is possiirlc, but tras uevcr uccul ed, alrd the rnore
likcly event is that the pressure vessel is unable to withstand a sudden
unplanned rise in core temperature aDd pressure, or an explosion resultiDg
frorn this. Any exploslon - nuclear or chemical - is the result ofa runa\,!ay
energv-producing chajn rcaction, multiplving so fastthatthe energy doesn't
havc time to escape by nor;nal 'peaceful'means as heat and lighl. hrstcad,
thc eoergy dcnsity rises u!rtil the honds holding the matcrial togeth-"r are
brokcn and it blou,s aparl. In thc words of the unfortunatc spokesperson
alior olle accideni. it is aD 'energetic disasseDlbly'. Obvious]v, a chemical
explosion cao ol)lv haplen if stlilahle (rhemical$ are prcsent, particularl]'
h! drogen. One possibilit!, iD reactors u ith water as a moderator or (:oolart
is that the tempemture l iscs to the poini whe.e ihe water turDs itlto steam,
ivhich reacts u,ith the zirconium allol used as luel cladding to produce
hydrogen and zirconium oxide [i.e. a lbml of'rusting']. The nccessarv
colrditioDs lbr srrch a chernical explosion might a sc in a nnclear rcactor
as a rcsult ofeither a sudden loss ofcoolant or a 'lunaway chain roactior1,
and we look briefly at each of these. The specilic accidents mentioned are
dist:ussed in more delail in Chapters 11 and 13.
A ffaior Ioss ofcoolant cao have parlicularly scrious consequences in a
nuclear reactor. ln a fi)ssil-fliel plant, such [ailure would be dangerous, but
at lcast the Beneralion ofho:rt encrgv could be stopped by cuttinB off the fuel
ol air supply. Nol so iD a rluclear icactor. Even if the chain reaction stops
instantly. radioactive decay of lhe lissi<rtr products contiDues, and the rate
oI oncrgv release immediatelv after shutdown caD be almost a tcnth of firll
normal power- eDough to cause thc corc tcmperafure to rise at 100'C Pcr
minutc if lhc coolant is lost The hal[-li\ r!s oimanv of the prodtrcts ar'e vol\'
short. and the ratc may have lallen to a ieith rrf this level within an hoLrr;
brt the tieal pLorlucird duriDg this shurt tilne is enough to n)elt the core
arr<l perhaps the lloor olthc rr:actor building as well - a'China Synclrorne'
sccoado (the ficlional idca lhat the contrDts might continue to siuk towards
t}le diametricalh opposite point on theglobe!lThe most se otrs kno!!nioss'
of (:oolant accldenis we.{, thos(i ai Tlx(xr Milo Islaxll ('lMI) i11 Perlrsylvarriil

r,"r .r,i":,;l,l,l.'l i:l:

in ,,.-e.,,,d l:: :l,:l;;ljlX. 1"^
rt1:):.":jl,i:I,; l't ii.",";",s.
r,* .i

i..a"d Pu,t ot
screenlng dLUur

;xx';','.ffi ;l J-l i ;:

fi:Hifi :-:":":iiiil'i#'i':1""7


f 1,.rrr, ,1 efficiency
'l'he studr of coal-fired power stations in Chapter 6 showcd that the heai-
t,) cl,{ tri( r,v efficien{ )' of thp plant depends critically on the lcmperature
ol'llre stc.rll rnput lo thc turbines. and that lbe maxlmum permissjble
steaot tenrrreratulo and Presstre is determiDed by th{l availability ofhiglt-
temporal rr: r: steel allovs. The same rcasoning applies to nuclear plants. b[t
witl'rsero|al imporlant differe[ces ln all types of nuclear p]ant excePt thc
hoiling re;cto$ tsee Scction 10.6), the steam for the turbines is not
pnxluZed directly in the reactor, but by the cooiant carrying heat ftom the
core to stcam generators, and this of course involves some tempemture
drop and etTiciency loss. But the really significant differeace is that all
the materials in the reactor core or its su[oundings are subject to constant
neutron bombardmeut, leading to embrittlement of metallic comPonents
anrl furthcr limiting the maximum Permissible temperatures'
Or.0rall. the effect of these constraints is that the steam enters the turbincs
at significaltly lower tomperatures than the 500'C ofa modern suPercritical
coailfircd claot, and the resutting efficiencies aro correspondingly lower'
The earlicit nuclear Power plants, with steam temPeratures only-slightly
above 300'C, achieved little more than zoyo heat-to-electricity efficiency'
un,lalthorrgh there has boen considetable improvemenl, the cu-rrent 35o/o.
. ,r so of th;esl pressurizcd water reaclors {see Seclion
10'6) fails short ol
morlcrn c,r,rl-fi red plants.

Types of thermal fission reactor

the first nuclear power stations were commissioned' about a dozen
aitierent tvpes of thermal lission plant have been brought into use'. bul
;-;-.;:;' ";ti;;;iing tin zorot talt inro four main careSories essentiallv
,,,i,..rt. ,,, th.ii .l,oici of moderator and coolanl: light watet fot both'
i,,,,, t: ,L,i . fu, Uo,i, , grcphite moderator wth gas coolant and grophite
nlr](ictotoi'Aith liBht witei codo nt. The gteat maiority ofthe w^orld's reactors
fdll into the first ;ategorv, so the following brief summary of reactor types
stats with light water reactors (LWRs).

Light water reactors

Pressurized water reactors
Thr) rea(lr)r'r.r iD tile nlaiority of the world's mtclear plants usc ordinary
rvater undcr high p.rr.u* u. both moderator and coolant Thc two
ttrlcs .rru '-Ile oresiurized watcr reaclors (PlvRs) devcloped in thc USA'
,,,',1 thc wate.-wat"r'enerSy-rea(tor (VVER) developcd in Russia
F,r'ure 1u I7 shows thc main features of a PWR' The core of the rcaclor
."irit" "r about a hundred fuel assemblies held between lop andfuelbotlom rods'
",... [".h luel assemblv is a t:lu:ter of a few hurrdred long thin
zir. ,,n illlll ,rllov lubcs ,l {;w melrcs long and a centimetre or so in diamnt"l '
na, kerl r.r , tn ur.rttium oxide fuel pellcts' Thc open r'ol e slrllclrll'e
allo\ 's I he
i..'t., ,u,r rrs,srrru.lcrrlutanrl ,".lant l,flowfreelydl hiEh prnsstrre p,'sl

reactor aontarnment
burldint (biolotical


Dr83ur zed w.t€. .r..rit

Figure 10.17 The main features of a pressurized water reacor (PwR) (source:adapred
lrom RS and RA Eng,2009)

the fuel rods. Heated as it passes throrLBh the corc, it lhen Eives up its heat
iD one o! more steam generators (boilers) to prcduce steam for the porver
station iurbines. RefuellinB involves replacing perhaps a third of the fuol
assernblies every year or so.
As in an\, therural plant, the highcr the steam temperature the greater lhc
heat-to-elsctricit), efliciency, but ii 1s essential that tho water coolAnt must
lemaiD liquid. and to achieve this at a temperaturc of 300'C or more. it
needs to be at a pressLrre of over 100 atmospheles. ln a PWR. the cor-e is
co[laiDed iD a pressure l,essel sulrourded by a primary concrete shield, and
the entire system, including the steam generators, is enclosed in a concrete
co[tainment structure to prevent the cscape ofradioactive materials,lvith
a stesl lining to capture high-energv rarliation. (The Russian WER diffels
significantly in havii8 several separate coolant cilcuits rather than 6 single
ptessrrre vessel.)
Maintaining the high pressure of tllc coolant lvater is very important. If one
of tho largo pipes caEying heate(l u,ater lo the steam genemtors fracturod,
the water would at once flash to steam, losing its cooling ellect- So a fast
and effective ernergency cooling svstenr is needed, and the PWRs usually
harre several in place. ('Ihe lailurc in the l'hree Mile Islaud PWR rvas due
in part to bumall intelvention in the automatic safety systems.)

.li ir rrr I' Lr.. rr, , r'l,rL i.
;rrlr',rrrr erl IrrssLrrrzfli rr,rlIr rr'.rr lors ( \l\\'R.)

Boilint water reactors

Boilin8 water reactoB (BWRS). also d'.velope(l in the seco[ci
to thc PWRs ir the number iu rrse worldvricle. Jap.rl arrd a li:w trLlrer
cotlntries have generall! preferrcd these to lhe PWR. The c]arnaBed reaclors
al Fuknshima are B!!lls.
'l ho 1l\,VIi is sirrlilar to the PWR in manv respects, but, as the nanle su83ests.
tho \\,ater th|t acts as cooiant and moderator is allor,vocl to boil i))to
sr{ram that.lrives the turbites iFiSure 10.18). This has the disadvantage
tllilt the tllrbirles are exposed to lhc potentiallv radioactive coolart butnot
having separate steanl Senerators reduces costs and heat losses However,
BWRs have generally operated at lou,er temperatures and plessures than
PwRs. so their heat-to'electricitv elliciencies ale not voly diffcrent

Fisure lO.l8 The nrain rea.ures of a borlins waler reactor (8wR) Gourcc adapted from
RS and RA E.8.2009)

,\s nrcnlion..l above, desiSlr (:han8es a.e ofteu roL]ogltize(l bv a chaneo of

name. and the advauced boiling water reactor (ABWR) is all €x^irplc
lr is still a large BWR (l35tiMW electricitl' oILll)Lrl), hrrr r'r'ith rrodilied
,:,crdlin!!\'\rp.rr..irr'r'rrlrF.,r'.<,'.ir' lr'l't l'r .' r"'l 'rr'!!
lL, ll .lr)r'rli drr/1 d..:i'l'r(. '\' ll) lll,.- 'l !lriri r" r' ''l '\utvIt rr'
()peratiollal. ma itl]v ili JaPaD.
ENEB('Y 5T 5I Efl5 AII

Gas-cooled reactors
As rnentioned earlier, the UK had rlo cnrichfient
facilitv al the start of its
fi,ii:;; ;;;"';;;;;:,o G" ,1"'ig" oi its rors $ ds sov4rned h-v rle necd
'rr""", *."i"ii i, nti"'l (non-enrit'hed) uraniutn' The original
f."e Box l0'91 use Eraphile as modetalor'
carbon dioxide
jll"^'1".".i."i ."a rt"tt er than neutron-ab"orhing steell
^lnn".iu* "tto!
" A". u.rul, thn i'lti'i"ncv is limited bv I he maximutn
i;; i;"1;l ;i;d,;t. surreturn r arl tf ilhaidrr'l
i""r,r"t"rr.,r" ,rEssrrre thdt the mdlprial'''rnd
::'it;;;;, ;;"I;;'.i".',i''it' crficiencr rlaimed f()r , MaBn')\ plarrt rs
slightly over 30%.
followed alio
The advanced gas-cooled reactors {AGRs) that
rn ",t".gt:pli::
tnelt Iuer r5
moderator and carbon dioxide coolart but lhe uranlum
u 235 As 5bown in Figure l0 lg theresirlli']9 tllt:liIsolln
i" aif"."nt lrr,m a PWR or BWR ThP main (ore is ellccllvely
;;;i,;';;;;; channels extended bv metal tubes uP
ro lhc re,,clor
Ioos rrom du')vE
iitJ cao to allow insertion of fucl elemenls and control
I# ;"" ;;.;;i;;;o iu"''"" not lons and thin as i' the PwR'
,iu"k"a utou" each other' The carbon dioxide
#;;;i;;il;Jy, dlrnospherL:s'
IJotuni l, ou*r.a tnrough tho core at a !ressure ofabout 40
absorbing heat from the fuel and delivering it lo lhe boilers'

steel-lned conffere



FiSure I O. I 9 Th e marn fealu res ol a n advanced gas cooled reacror (AG R)
adapted from RS and RA En8,2009)

flrc reactor 1' .'n66'g'l in a (.on':rple l)lessur., rcs'ul $l'i' h ll 'r''^lh"
l' 'l I'p
."r,",,*. ,"t, f,t" , -bon ,l,o\i'le cool rrit gas ancl "" " clPcl
"J 'rro'r 'h'"1'

\!'rcL 'r sr'l rn

,*ti., t"*"."t metrp' thicl are pre-slrc'sP'lLr hcavl
wnrch was claimetl hv o1" ul th" AL;R ^ bc le:s li[' l\ r" 'rrlJer
d rP rlp
;;i;';;;;;. *1,;;,lran ^6u6'irre Pwn orh" "laim.d Jd fer\ ''| lrant'r'rr''
;i;J r,;;, iith-" .norr,'g ,rid.r^ir N"*1]"'lT:t ?,:.11:":1""::i,:l',]i'l],]l;]
lO.9 Nucl€.r powcr ln thG UK
he l rrr 23-MW seneralillq sels oI tnr L K's ongina] Cald''r Hail power station
'c(l vranox reac"tors tL,r"nanr" dr'ritrrrg trom lhe magnpsium allo!'clad'LnB
f ruel eiement". ln 195s, C€lder Hall rvis joined by the similar ChaPelcross
liult, also desi8Ded b), the tlK Atomiri Energy Autho ty (tJKAEA)
rinrarily fr,r piutonium producllon Iur milllar! PUrposes Both rhesP plaltts'
(:ontiDued in
,,bsequinr lv'oul n*.1 by I]r'itish \r,clenr Frrels L mitPd (BNFLI
peration into lhc present century, bui are now closed
r 1955 s programme was announced by the UK's Ceutral Electricity
:enerating BJard {CEGB) for the corstructior of nioe civil Magnox power
tations, ;th outputs .angin8 from 300MW to ovor 1000M!V' and these were
ommissioned ov;r the p;riod hom 1962 to 1971. ln 1984 their op€rating
ves wcre extendcd from the Plaloed 25 years and at the time olwritin8
2010) two romain in oPeration {Figurc 10 20 alld Table 10 3)'


1 a Heysham
I land2
, /",
!* SEewell A
2L,- ,aaerle ey

S,re by rype of reactor

t l'latnox Hankl;), Poini A and
a l,la$oi - shut down
!, AGR
I ACR shut down

ii Repro.ess ng pli.t

"r"<."r d'.l.rr
l:K Dower ttitiont

Table lO,3 UK.ucleir Plants oPerllrng in 2010

Rca<tor atrd lo(atio n

t968 20 t0
Wylfa t97t 20 r2

1916 20 r6
H nk ey Point B
1977 20 r6

1984 2014
t984 ?0 t4
t985 20 r8
DunSeness B
1988 2023
Heysham 2
t989 20?3

r995 2019
Fo. det.ilt of re.ent proPo5al3, s€e ChaPrcr I l.

into u(P lheil

Even bpfore thP fiI<t of lh! nrrrr ner Magno\ planls cdmP - ^-
sucLessors were being dis' us'Prl and in IqbzI protot,?averslonolIneAtrt(
became operatronal in lqb4 thc ACR was adopled for
lhe UK s-tulure nLr'lear
o.on."..u Ioldl "lse!en twin_rPrCloI r2 ^ 660MWl power
:,;ii;;;;;;;.';;;;iiy "nar comt,let' d. At the I ime or writinB (mid'2010r' rhrPc
.iil. i.'.i""" rei,rp'ra'.ily o'rt uf operdlion {or periods ol " few
montlrs, but all sev"n planls are currenlly exppcted to Lonlinue
rn servl' e over

their planned lives.

the Prototype of .
There was, however, a potcntial rival to the AGR In 1c68 (SGHwR)'
anotLer Britrsh dc'ign.ihn sleam-Senereting heavy
had come rnto operalior, and the rollo"r rng deLadp sr!t a len8lhy deD'rlP

,,ver rhe rel"livc merils ol lh" A(;R and SCHWR for lhe oext Sonerol'on
nuaoui o"*",.rd'ions lhe SCHWR evFntuitlly losl thc
in Is78 two m;rc AGR' heru nlJered But Ihcse were Io bs thP lasl
0l lne
tr'r break inlo the LwR-dominated
-"ri."i * i*r, long ielore the final two plants were-operationai'
The u
irrii*,1", rn,af "ubmiLtcd for the UK s firct PWR >:lP dJ

:"; ;;;:li;;;";"te;
"il""inn lor rhe sGHwR' at srreweli on the sur[o]r Lon{r'
;r,"i;:t.""J v"e.,"- pi*t Arter a lons artd bitrerl)-r.'Lshl
prtil. lnqriry. tt u phn w,r. approved, and lhe 1 2 G\t Sizowell PWR ' anF
online in 1995.

Heavy water reactors

with some tuel1ty
Tho Canadian.rleuterium-uranium (CANDU) rcaclors'
lv olller l\ fe of r''r' lnl t'
oiur o on"l",i.g t , Crtli, la "rt'l overs"aq at( thP
I".,:, , .u",'f a 'lomrn m,.! nl rnt'P!&R arrd B\VR
",ja".Lrt", "n-ini",f, to '
Lrle,he UK rcarror;, tno 1..\NDl w"s originr'lly d rs'gncJ "illt']a\
urantunt f,,1. htrl rr' snlLrlio)r Io nntrrr'rn ln's
\tas o u5e hudvv war('r
,ra."O*rtor lhe nrurldnr' rrnrrrr PrcssLrr.e ai a,l"mP" rlLrr' oI
"""l^"i LUU r'"''"-'
;buut 30r) L, llows tnlut,gll llr'lIFtls "l lrurrzu'rrol "'Erdr


Fi8ure 10.21 Thc nra.n ol3 CANDU reacror (source:adaPted from RS and RA

llrr shrrlt fLrel brrrclles (t"igrrre 10.21). A major arlvartaSe, possible onh'
,,,r rrLrser crf tlre verv lo',i, noutt'o absorptioD by hcavy wator, is that thcso
11,,.s t an bc douhle-vr'.,.1/cd, irstLlatiDg the hot, higl't-prossule ccrolanl frorn
lL,. .tLtrr]ulrdilg lno(lerat{rr. lvhich docs not Docd 1o llr- ptessurized ;rs il
r rir., irrs l)0lo\v 100 '(i. l he lrtoclt:rator fiils a horizol)tal sleel cilinclcr cillr,,l
.r r alandlia. r!ilh th{) insllliln'd trtlrcs (:arrvitlg tho llot coolaDi otll
thr',r rgh thi: r:ncls of l)rr: r:ylittrlt:r'.

tl.\\DUs hayc a relulivelv Ion ttrermal efficir:ncv. but their high ncutlc'rr
,:rrorrorrtv allows lhe usc ol a range ofdiffercDt fuels, 'IlTev have even LLstrtl
Ih(rsl)cn1 h)ei fi otll P\{Ils. rrud havo becn rrcnsirleleclbv the USA for rleallttg
l| Lth sLIplus !veapors-,.]r'rtrlo plLrtoniuot. In roc0nt ycitrs, as \/aliants ol llrl)
,ri: rrrl(-,,\Nl)ljshavc(()ln()int.ruse.amorogencral term has been adoplo(l
,,, r,,r.lof.iofthjsttpc: prcssurized heavy water reactors {PHIVRs). India,
.r iri, h conrmissiollcd its first CANDLi reactor ovcr thifi\" vcars ago. nou'
rrs - this ternr fol all its roat:tors ofthis tvpe, u'hilst Canada calls its ncu'r:st
rL,r'sroll the advanced CANDU !eactor (ACR).

n:l MK reactors
rr ,rlrlition to thc VVIIR ontioDed abovc, Rrrssia developed other types oi

LL,,i t,rr'. l)1 $'hich the nl:rin .) .r rvas the high power channel-type reaclol'
Illl\lK). l){r|el.,Pcd fr-onr,:a|l\-Russian plutoni u rn- proi] ucing reactors. it
.rs,,. lrayrhite as rrro(ler,rlor,rl(l li3il !{ater (:rx)liInt (fiqurc 10 22)


The ma n learures of r Russian RB|1K Gactor (source:adaPrcd from

Fiture 10.22
and RA En8,2009)

tu rr,re
The RBMK. like parly reaclors elservbere was oriEillall! de\i8ncd
nalural uranium. bul subsequently chalged to sliShtl!'enriched
tuel' llrc
Chcrnobvl reactor! wer. oithis type and after the events
in l986 lsec
:o..ia".ir * i".ir.n 10.51 a number ol RBMKs in Russi" and elrewhcre
T)rere are no plans to build morc' but at the time
writing (2010) aboul a dozen ate still oPeratins'

SummarY of reactor tyPes

i)r Llse world!{ide
Table 10.4 shows the mair tYpes oftherDal fissio[ reactol
inioro. no*"r"'.. rs dl'cussed. the lasl vaSnox was conrntissionerl itr
1q71 a1{ the lasl ACR irl 1985. dn'l it is almosl certdin
that Kussrir '"\ rll
build lo more RBMKs.

Teble 10.4 TyPes of thermalfission rcactor in oPeration wo'ldY!11910

Rea(tor Fue I Moderator coolant
Enriched uranium LiShl water Light water
LrSht water
WER Enriched uranium LiSht v,aer
BWRJABWR Enriched uranium LiSht water Light water/steam

Naruraluranium GraPhite Carbon dioxide


Natural uranium Heavy water Heavy water

Enriched uranium Graphite LiShr \/aEr/steam

As mentioned al ihe slarl o[ this chapter' durinB lhe ]rasl lirw !cilrs ol
lhc raln
overall rate of d.;, u,rrllrissioning of nuclear Plnrrlt hrs excooded
;onstruction At'hc trmo oiwritinS, ill ldle 2010' ovcr fiftv neu plants
,,ndor con.tructio,, loflr of them accotlnted Ior by four uountries:,(ihrrra'
lhe lrnv
Russia, India and south Korea {WNA 20lo) WhBn completed

plants shoul(l add a tothl of aboul 50(;\V ol ellltrical {)apacitl to thc 2010
t{)lal of 375 C\ry. But the la ller figllre is of course falliflg as rnorc pld)rts aro
de(uIlr lll issio ned. Chapter 11 discusses these and othpr issues con([ninil
the fulure of nuclear porlor.

10.7 Nuclear fuel cycles

'Io assess the full costs, thc environmental effects or the social implications
olanv oDergv system, the entire scquence ofevents flom the original plimary
cnorgv to the [inal useful output needs to be examined. [n t]re case of nuclear
power, this means the complete fuel cycle outlined in Figure 10.23, Reactors
have aiready been considered in some detail, so the topics hele are the hont
end and 'back end' of the cycle: mining and extroction, enrichment and
lid fobficotion, and dealing with the spent fuel. The environmental ald
other elfects of these processes will be discussed in detail in Chapters 11
and 13, so tbe following should be regarded as a short intrcduction.


FiSure 10.23 Nuclear luel cy.le

t"lin ing and extraction

Ui--anirtm is a fairly comrrrr:r elenrcrrt, Iourd iD nrany types of rock and also
in the oceaDs. -{s an olemorlt, it is a heavv metal neariy twice as donse as
load; but in nature it alrrosl alrvals occrrrs as a rnixturo of uraniurrr o\ides,
reprc$ rtecl chcmica llv as tl3On. ln cu stomarv m ining term inolog\'. a bod)'
ol-ror:k is rlefinr:d as uranium ore il it contains an econornicallv rccciverable
concontrali()n ofuralirrnr Currenllv this qLlarrlilY varics lionr a nraxir[um

(\l r \r(x ceot ol [J poin the rot:k ltrr a high-g,rade ore, dou'n to a Lowtr
Limit of ibout one nart ill d t]iousand. i\ft9r exlraclion' tlle ll3OB is ir the
krrnt oI a r:ompresied pc,rvrler called 'yellorvcake' l]ra)rium itself is onl,i
mildl-r' rarlioaitive, so lhis porrdcr does noi prcsent I nlrior llazarcl alld is
the Iorm normally transporlcil to the nexl sta8e of processing
a nu(lear plani generating f000lvlw ol electriu po$'er reqrLires aboLrr
2001onnes ol yellortcake per year, so the rtorld's presont ouclear po\^ei
stations necd ; loial annual srrpPlv of some 70 000 lonlles Currerll! onl\
dbout tlvo'thirds oI this is 'ne\'\,' uranium. tho resl (ronrillS lionl stockpil(''
accLunulaled in earlier vears. Ilt is estimated tl]11 ovel t$'o million lonnes
ol uranirrn have ber:n produced lvorldwide sill(]e 1sJ45 )
The tailinSs, thc residucs after extraction oI the rtranjum, do give rise
to,,nn""arr". As described in Section 10.3. the ore \'ill havc contaire(l
radioactive daughter products that have accumulatcd in the ground for'
rillions ofyears- Moreover, one interlncdiate product is the radioactive 3as
radon {Fjgure'10.4), which has in the pasi had verY serious conseqrtent:es
lor workeis undergrouncl {see Chapter 13). lnitially in the foror of a slurtr'-
the tailings may hive up to twenlv tinles thc radioadivity of the extlacted
r,ranium,-and ian also include chemically or biologlcally undesirable
materials, so appropriate sa[e storage is obvlously essential' Depencling
on the gracle oioro, there can he betweeD 100 and 1U00 tonnes of tailings
for cach tonne of unentiched uranium, implyillS a current worldu'idr
acculnulation of up to fifty million tonnes per year'

Enrichment and fuel fabrication

'fhe cxtraction and separation of useftrl tniietals from orcs is a common
chemical process, but thesc methods are of no use in sepalating isotopcs
because isoropes are cltenicolly indistingLtishable. Although their nrrciri
are diflclcot. they are the sanle elcment. \ ,ith the sanle n uDlber of elcctrons
surrounding the [!rc]eus. so therr chemistry is thc sanie An\ enrichNerll
method must therefore depend on the one diflerence betwecn thcmr that il
U-238 atom is slighlly heavicr than a [J-235 atom. 'l he s.ientists \^'ho lirst lacell
the problem of increasing thc p.oporiion of U-235 had therefore to think ot
processes in which mossmakes a siSnlficant dilfcrentle. The obvious cxample
that comes to mind is a centrifuge, but plactical .iifficulties (see be-low) nlearlt
that for scveral decades aI) enlirely dilTererlt meth.rtl ivns rrslxl
Gaseous di{irsion was originally dcveloped to produce highlv enrkhorl
weapons-grade uranium. It starts with the conversiolr oI IJ3Os into trraniun]
hexafluoride, [IF6. Known as hex, this uraniLrnr (:ompound usefu]lv become.
a gas when stightly heated. The method lhrrn uses the fact that the light.r
hex molecules containing U-235 diffuse th.ouSll a porotls mcmbranc
slightly faster than lhe hcaviet noleculcs wjth U-238 The djfferonr:t,
1s exlremely small, and a lhousand or tltore lepotjtions of the diflisior'
proccss, consrlming a great deal of onelgy. are ne(lessaav to increase Ihl'
tr-235 proportion lo 3-4%. Iuany dillusion 1)lanls are still in Dperali'ro
lvorldwide. but ceDtrifiging is nolv graduallv Iaktrg over
The principle ofthe ga$ centrifuSe method has been rvell known I'or nranr
years. When a tluid containing particles is splln at verv high speecl. tht'
heavier particles move outrrards faster tltan the liShter oDes, lealing lh!
fluid near the cenirc 'enriched' in light particles IIoweve., thc technologr
for etficient centrifugai scparotion of irdividual nvrleclr]es rvjth orrlv I ft'n

lr(,r Lrnr . i.irercn(,, in rDiiss \vas not easv, artd this tethodhasonlYit1rrcer]t
\ cirrs lrrr , lre ecot:lrmicallv c()mpctitive rvjth diffusjon. The startillg i)oint
is d8airr r\'()r'sr.,:l irti) hex. nhicir is llten sl)[D at ver],high speeds to
I{rlricre i Lsol.1, , se|iralion Thc n)ajor advrnlage ovcr difflrsi{)11 is iLflt
lirr'hrvcr': Detilir,ns irre ncedocl, rerlur inq thc enr)rg\, cosl IoIaparticular
deqrec o; Lrrir:hr]lr'rrt b\ d Ia(:tor ol about fifly
\,Vith ei ,,r proc{r!s. t[c cnrichcd uranium is not thc on]y end product.
lllo\ itabli there must be a cofiesponding quantity oI depleted uranium
the fractl,,n left rIith iess than the original proportioll of U-235. 1'h-"
prodLrctirir of oD,r toDDe of 3.5'lo eDriched uranium. foa instal]ae, aoulrl
Ioave as i:r r.h as !ix toDnes of dcplcted uranium lvith onl\- a quarter of a
llcr ccnt I -lii5. Dppleted ruaDium is at present tnainlv storecl lbr possible
frrlur{r fu( . JSe lscri C]raptor 11), although sonte, in metalljc form. has harl
(non nu.l')ar-) milttary uses.

Spent it:el
No reactor lullv burns all the U-235 in its fuei. The usual reason for replacing
spent lirei :s a builcl up of fission products and actinoids, 'poisoning' tho
fuol and r ,.iLLcing lhe Ileat output ofthe reactor. Replacement details differ'
[or difft,r.:): tvpes ol reactor. l)ut typicall\, a lhird of the fuel elemoots in a
PWR atc r'',placetl ,rach vear or so, each ollc therefore remainilrg lor al)orlt
thrco \,{rars. I able I0.5 indicates possible contonts oftlle spcnt fLLel removed
at the eni ,: f ihis period.

Table I 0.5 The ma n constituents of 1000 kg of spent fuel fronl a thermal

fission reacior

Content Quantity/kg Notes

u-215 7 Fission of U-235 will have contributed abo!!
two-thirds of the power outPut.lts remaining
concentration in !he spent fuel is similar Lo that in
natural uranium,
u-238 9.10 Thc origin:l 965 kg of U 238 in the fre.h fuel will
have been reduced by neutron absorption leadint
to plutonium and other actinoids.
P utonrunr I 14ore than half the p utonium produced from U-238
will have undergone fssion,contributint about a
rhird ol rhe ro.aL power outpu!.
Frssion 38 These liShter radioactive isotopes. wi$ half-l ves
products from fraclions of a second to a few years, conrribuce
over 99% of the inrtial radioactivity of the sPent fuel.
Acrinoids. 5 The heavy radioactive isocopes, many with very long
U-236, e!c half-lives, contribure most of the radioactiviry thar
rernains after a few hundred years.

The data,r :yprcalfo. spent iuel a PwR usint enriched fuel conurninS 1.5%
U-215 and 96 5% U'218 but rhe quantities can depend on rhe mode ofoperaton
ard coirld be signifcantly difierent lor o.her t/pes of reactor

Initially thts speDt fucl is highiy raclioactivc, and the energ-!r transferred bv thc
cnrittcd irir!ricles to thc sulloul1ding aioms as ]leat is sufficient to ll10lt solid

nraterials in a lew misutes Allvstol'age!\'rtemlll[stthereforQprovideboth

a radiation shield and an efll.iert mear-i ,rf heal c)itractioll. ,'\lter refltov l
tionr thc reactor, spent ltrel is Dor ritll\ rlibmelSed ullder a lcw llretres of
water in a tank equipperl with a coolin-e .''stern. \'her{] il refiains for at least
a year. The actir.liv irill then have fallcn i, r perhafs 10 000 MBq Per granl of
uiaterial This is still alnrost a ntillion tiI:l's the activit]' ofnattual uraniuur'
but it can now be moved to the next sttr:"ge stalle lts subsequeot treatmcDt
falls into two maio catcSodes: diredl CisJ )sol a[d .ep]ocessing

Direct disposal
The direct disposal route iDvolves l{"avi e the sPcnt fuel in tanks ior 40 or
50 vcars, bv which the time the radioictifilv and heat production will
have fallen to levels that in princitrlt: all,-rrv otl'ier. more col'nPaci forlns of
storage (Box 10.10).

BOX 10.10 Radioactive wa3te

ihe radioactive waste arisir€ from the nuclear-power industry or other civil
rses of radioactive maierials is usually classified as higb_, intermediate' or
Iow-le1,el, dcpending on its activitv.
High-level waste is responsible for all bur a lew per cent ofthe total
raAioactivity from nuclear waste. It is majni.v- either speDt reactor {uel
(Table 10.5) or l}re separated fis$ion products and actinoids lhat result from
rcprocessing. In eithei case, the waste conlinues to require slielding and
coolilrg and needs to be kept in monitore(l storage lor perhaps 50 yea]s'
The pmposed method for final disPosal is to Place the material in deel
underground stores, but at present (2010r no countr)'has agreed detailed
plans for the type or the location of lhese. dnd it reoains an issue for debate
(see Chapt€r 11).

Intermediate-level wasle also comes mainl\'ftom roactors. and accounts for

rather more lhan a tenth of the total volume and mlher less than a twerltieth o[
the total radioactivity oI all nucldar lvaste mat€ als. Any substance in or near
the rcactor (ore is subiected to constanl netttron bombardment, and any
stablo nuclei become radioactive after absorbirl3 a nentron This induced
radiosctivity means thaL comPon€nts ftom the reactor core, and in particular
items such as the fuel claddinS removed iI reProcessing is cafiied out. will
be sulficiently radioactive to require shielding and safe storage lhese are
normally enclosed in concrete and placed undergroulrd.
Low-level waste, malnly materials and eqlliPment tllat have become
contalninated by radioisotopes, is ao outcome olmedical and rcsearch uses
ofradioactive materials, as well as the nLrclear po\4'er industy' It accounrc lbr
nine-tenths ol the volnde ofradioactive nlaterial to be disposectofannually,
but .ontributes no more than 1olo of the toial activity Nevertheless, it is
usually regarded as material that should be buried or othen'vise disposed of
"r sF..ial sites In rhe tIK most is senl io the Lo\,\'Level
Waste Repository at
Drigg near Scllafield in Cumbria


As 'l'able 10.5 sho,,vs. the spent luel ienlove.l ho a reactor'ca!'l contain

significant quantities of lissile U 235 and plutoDium' and reprocessing

rs d,"sigred to extract rhese fissilc materials ior reuse. Ii iD roh'cs .Ieulical

soparrtion prucosses iltni werc alrcadv used ir lhu earliest r,iactors nr r)lt.rirl
plulonium lor th.r iirst nuclein $'eapons. In recent civiL rtpro,iessmB, lhe
sp€nl hr-"1 is ,royod h (,ln th. n, s ilo all(rr aboLrt a ) ear to a rct)ro..ssir8
u(l hrol Ial)rrcirtror t)l.rnt 'Ihen' it rnusi n'rnarn In coolxla lrnks t.r. nh,.Irl
,rnothrx Iivc !{) rs. Lrnlil the aclivitv has talleu enough to allou lhc lhree
cornt(,ncDts. uroniltn). plutaniuir' and h'os/e. to be uhcn,i(ral\'sePa.dred.
'lhe lissilc plutonium could in l,rinciple b,r use,l in reactor fuels arrd thc
lrrariLrm nolr about o i% tl-235, re enrichcd for reuse. Holvever, the ftilure
for reprocessinB remaiDs controversial, as willbe discussed in (lhaplor 11.

10.8 Fast neutron reactors

'the main diffljrenco l)et$'een lhe thermal reactors rliscussed abovtr and
fast ncutron rcactors (FNRs) is that. as the name sllggcsts. the sequcDce
o[ 6ssions that is essential lor a conslant pol\'er outplit is maintained by
the /i:sl neur?ns reieased in earlier fissions (Box 10 4). So orc impol1ant
practical difference bclween a lhermal fission reactor and a fast noLrtron
rcactor is lhat tho FNR (loes not nced a means olslowilrg down the neutrons
hr other rvordsr
A fast rcactor does nol need o moderotor.
Horvever, as rue hale seen. last neutrons aro rnuch lcss efllr:ien1 than
thcrnral neutrons iD inducing furlher llssions. So a socond impo[anl
practical di{fcrenco is the necd for a high concentration .lfissile nLLCI.i
to maintain the chain reaction. In othcr $'ords .
A fasi reactor nceds nuch grcatet fttel entich ent.
ln practice this means lhat the tuel, which miSIt bc either LlraDium or
uranium together with arother fissile material such as plLrtoriunr, eeds
a fissile conlent of between 109/o and 300,6 compared \vith thc 2-5% of
a lhormal reactor.
Sirce the lirsl non-ruilitary last reactor planl in lhc 11l5os a tolal ol
.rl)oul iwoIrt!'have operate(l at !ariotrs times in eighi diffcrent counlries.
tlccunrLrlating orlly rhoul 400 r€ractor-Ie rs of operalion. (The total for
thermal rcactors is several hundrcd tim€s this.) A 600 Mw planl is culrdlill'
ope.nti ng in RLr ssia. Man1' counlries are currently considering FNRs irl thoir

lutur€ programmes. and according to the World Nuclear Associationl

They oller the pri)spcct ol vastly more efficient uso ol r.rra innl
rosources. ancl thr: abrlitt,lo burn [aclinoidsl lvhich arc otbor\risc
tlro l1,irg livtyl coDrponent ol high'levcl nu,lear wastes
{wNA, 20r r I
onc ol lh{) processcs rcferred to l}v the \'vNA has alread! rppeir{rd above.
in thc carli{rr history oI nuclear rcactors As dcscribed in FiStrre l(l 14,
last ne t.ons can be effeclive in producing plutonium fft,rrr thc non tissile
tl-238, an(l the prospect ol'breeding' this altemativo lssile milleriitl has
.ontinued to alira.J allenrion drtring lhc sel'cnrv lears sinc| th. Iirsl
warlime plutonium-producing rlractors.
'lhe priuiiple oi lhe fast bre€der reactor {FBR) is thal the fasl neutrons
not onlv naintain thc fission proccss but also breed plutoniurr llorn the
t i-23i1in the fuel. which might i itiallvbe enriched Llraniuln loS.rthcr lvith

another fissile material such as Pu_239 as a nrinor con s tit u€nt lt mav seem
odd to use plutonillm in the fuel when th€ aim is to produce plutonium'
hrrr orovided rh"r'e are cpdrc Iree oeulrons lor the breeding prnce"s'
tho;uantitv ot Dlulonium siouid eradually burld up' urrl il a fuel uvclc can
tre iri orinciole be achi,:v"d rn which mure lrssile mdlenal ls c\lracled al
cach rphrelling lhan was loddP(l ru the he5h tucl
Plants likethis. where rhe fi ssi lc content of the extra'ted tuelis Sreatertharr
rhat oi the orisinal fuel, are rcterred to ds breeders' OlhPr tvpes' !vhere the
lissite conteni of th" e\tracied fuPl. is less lhan lhat ot lhc original fuel'
plutonium or undesirable actinoids'
ferhaps because the aim is to conrume
arc called burners

Liquid metal fast breeder reactors

'fhe cotrcentrated fuel ofan FBR generates considerably more heat per cubic
metre of core than the fuel in a thermal rcactor' The coolant nlust bc able to
carry away this extra heat, should have reasonably heavy atoms so that it
does not act as a moderator, and should not' ofcource, absorb neutroDs'
maioritv of FBRs have used sodiLrm a metal thal mells at about loo"C and
hoiis at;boul soo"C, and is tierefore liqrrid at t-he core temperalure of'rbout
ooolc -itho,rt tlre tt""a for hiSh pressue. Sodium is clemically exbemely
active. igniting on contact wiih ;ir and reacting violently with water' and
its use h"as been the source of some olthc problems suffered by FBRS'
Fieurc 10.24 shows In outline one form of liquid metal fast breeder rcaclor
lLiill'fRl. Onc esscntiol structulal drHeren{.e ftom a thermal redctor is lhdl
ihe core in which fissloD is maintained is surorinded by a'blanket'ofU'238
in whicb the breedingocculs. Theliquidsodium coolant circulates tlrrouBlr
ii'r" ,v"t". t."ni"rs heat to an iDtermediate circuit of the same liquid
rnetal, which in tum provides steam for the turbo'generators'

primary sodrum

- secondary sodrum

. tecondary sodiom

borcnzed-- \-.
neutronshield . - -t-

Fi$r. 10.24 The main comPonents ofin Ll'aFBR as Oounreav in

'onsrocted 't n d')
s.;dand Golrce: adapted from Ausrian lnrtiu(e fo.APPlied Ecolosv'

Tlre main conccrl1s al,or,t breeder Programlne centre oD its fuel. for thrco
Ioasousi the concentr'ati,ro {rffissile malerial. lhe necessltv lor reProcessins,
dncl llre celltral role ol plutoriu r [Box 10.11) The r:oncentrated fuel raises
the questior whethcr a runaway nudear reaction could occur. A flrlly
cliicrenl atomic bomb' rs not possiblc, and even a 'nuclear fizzle' would
requIo a number of imProbable conditions sLmulta]reousLy. Nevertheless,
rh;re is some disa8rcemDnt about probabllities and the unlikelihood doos
sccm to be of a di-ffcrel)t orde. from the virtual imPossibilily of a nuclear
explosion in a thermal reactor. Similarly with reprocessin6' rvhere thc
si8nificart differencc is that whilst this is an option in a thermal reactor
programme (soc Ser:tion 10.7), it is a necessity in a breeder programme,
wherc the nairr purpos. is the cxtmction of plutonium.

AOX l0 ll Th. pfili olplftoniun

'lo see why plutoniunr cduses concern we need io look mor6 closely al ils
properries. Onc cenrral fact is th3t with enough otit a bomb canbe made
irroi it should Le ernphasized, easiiy Plutoniunl is radioactlle, fissile and
ioxic, and in unstillod hrnds is more likeiy to lead to unpleosant death than
uriimited power. (lnde€il, its extreme toxicity and the coflsequent blaclDrail
power ofa lhreal to distrrbue it is, perhaps, as greal a reason for concern as
the possibility ofa bomb )

Ii could be arSued that boorbs can also be made ftom highlv enrichod U'235,
bur rh- imporianr drfterpnce i" rh.r eDrichmPn! r,qrires compler .nd I o'll!
)eotop? s.poratrcn. How' vcr. Plulonrum ( dn be +parated irom uantum b)
slrnpiar cnemrcoimcans. The fissile Pu'239 produced in rcactors does have
'diluting' isotopes, and lrue weapons_grade materiat should have less than 7%
otthe non fissile P -2a0ib\rt the Plutonium hom a breeder reactor, 'ontainin8
80-eo% Pr'239. could srrll be us€d in a weapon - ifa rather urreliable o e
Widr a growinS world suLplus of Pluionium, the concept bas dev€loped oi
using fait.eacio.s as b,rnicrs, consuming more piutonium than ihey pmdxce
(i.e. ihe reverse ora breeder). Many tonnes otw€apoos-8rado plutonium arc
hecoming'availablc' through decollmissioninSof nuclearweaponsbvRLrssia
and the r'isa Top l lhis j; context, abouteiSht kiloSrams of weapons-grade
plutoniun are required f.,r a bomb. and lhe loial quantity ofplutoflium iD
;xrsronce is thought to be over 1ouLl tonnes _a million kiloSrams The rne ts
and problenrs of dealjng uith plutonlum 3Je discussed turthor in ChaPtcr 11'

10.9 Power from fusion

Nuclear fusion is thc Proccss that powels the stars, including ihe Sun lt
is therefore the ori8iDal source of almost all thd energY that mairtains the
Earth's climate and its living matter. As the name suSSests it is the coming
logelher oI two lighter nuclei to form one heavier one. This is obviouslv
tlri reverse of fissicrn. so we nliSht expect il lo consume enerS]' raihcr than
pn,,l'r,.e rl. lt we atl-mf "d to lrrsP barirrm and lrvpton to ' reatc ur rtriurt
iLat wuuid ir1dce.l l)r tlit (:ase. l)ul lhe resull is verv diffucrt tor the liShlest
nuclcr. Wp kDo!,\' lhr\ bp ar,selhc mssscsol ill lh;parricle.concerncJ drt
rr,.r , a .l. a" wr, .au rr tsoy I0 2. ,l rh. roldl nlas. rrer d Pro, p5' i' lPqs
than thc total maEs belore. ther the procesB releases energ! Supposc that
a douleron rnerg(,s l{ith a tritoD and the resulting particle then splils inlo

,lr, r,lrrr ..'dnJ ' l''- rr!'. . 'r' lr'r rr' l0 '_'l U' \ ln'l_i
qhur :

"n '..
,"1 ,,'1",,,n.^..r rh,.\l,r'l"o r".ri r,1-'l -, npr"\ r' lr.'"n pPr i rloi
of lIIel should be consi(lcrablv Sreato lhar f{rr Iissjo

+ +
'A .HE

Fusion of the 6o(ler ol deutenum aod t'iium producing r h€lium nucleus

Figurc 10.25
(d-parlicle) and a sPare ieutron

How rruch enew is released in the fusion ol a deuiercn ond o triton?

The m€thod in Box 10.2 canbe used iftho particle masses are knom'
2 0136u
alpha pa(icle mass 4.0015u
neutron mass 1.00u7u

i m ol. .,r h' r"rt wrln a deLlcron rnd ' lrilon "nd
-thmerrc sh^w. rnar rt
,hp Lor I m"* wrll hrve derrea'c'l br
",'J'rr,i,-r" ".,,.r, '" *d a n" , on
lr,ll rh,\ sum-u''nJs\ iuD"irs h' li'' i' an"rgt i Hn' usrnB lhe laclors Brl " r
Bor tu.t.ii:"c.part.cieoi,d 1h. .,-. rrol wrll shJred rurdl of 'harrr
0.0189 x 931 = 17.6MeV = 17.6 x 1 602 x 1o'r I = 2 S2 10-'' ioules
Haw tnuch energywould be rcledsed )A lhc t'usion olzktoldeuteiun wit\
3keol triti1n?
AseiventnBo\ l01.1u= l.b60 10'18 Theredethu'aboul6x102i
i",.i"',,,. i*" r rtosrams or deut;riunr' arrd rle )druc omber ot
ldtium aioms in threc kilog.ams ol lriiium'
of th{:
So tho energy releas0d in the complete iusion ot ths five kiloS'ams
6 x 106 x 2.82 x 10-r, J= i.63 ! 10rr lor 34oTJperkB

Comoarison k'ill, rhl ronpsl,ondrnq lrC rrP tn Bo\ 1o 4 shows Ihal fusion
-"..iJ .'"a,,"" r,,' rimes. nuin enerer a'Iss on from cach kilosn'rt'
i """, rnp sirr' rJrr .' rr^r rhi. rinpl'' (>P" mdin P\lI
^ir".t buL unlonurrarclv '

'l hero is. {rt coLrrse. ihe issrre of hou' ilrc trvo initial parlides in FiEure 10 25
nrn to t" otrru,ne.l. neulcrium ar carlier' dL!DuI(s tur dLotrl unrl
i" ,ooo.f *,rtal hvdrogen. arr(l r:an be extractcd tuom lvater Bnl
i,,iir,, i"*air""1"", p-emittei s rth a haLtlife ofonlv 12 vears and occurs
" (o
,t.' auinlrr,Fs. rn' rlrtrrrrn rur r 1' hr\ion rea' rion des(r 'h''d
,r'n".<ro.r!",,.it, pr"ducodin'l lrn'le'rrlv Or"PUssrbililvrsrlrpnrrrlr'1r
rcaoron shown rrr Frgrrru I o 26 1"rr'rur b^mbdrdrn'r'I ^l lrlhrr'm_b l " r\

t rr. rlon isolope oi lithiurn 'l his

.elearcs a few !{oV of energv. but mor€
sirr ili(:antli it raisDs a !rr\ intcrestinB possibility. l-iqurr! 10.25 shows t[at
tL, i';uteronrriion r,)acliun pr.rduces a spare neutron, and thrs is precrselv
wh ,i ihe lithiunr reaction rleeds in order to produce.r new triton. In other
w( ' ts. thoro is the posslbililv ol a lbrm ol chain rea.lion: noutron{riton-
ner :mn-triioD, etc., \^ilh continuous convcrsion ofderterium and LithiDn1
irrt,. heiium and continuous Beneralion ofenergv.

+ +

l,+ !r, 1H" *?H


Fi8urc 10.26 Collision of. n.utron wth.lithium nucleus p.oducinS a hetium nucles
(o.piro.le).nd a lr'ton

The.e is howeveraserious problemrholv to persuade a deutercnand a triton

to n.,rrgc. we know that the strong nuclear force holds togetherthe closely
packcd prctons and neutrons in a nucleus. But the deuteron and t ton
both have posilive el€ctric chaBes, so initially there is an electrical force
pusl)ing them apart, and this becomss strorlger the closer they approach
catjh other- To put it arotherway, they have an enormous energy mountain
to (:iimb before the strong nuclear force can tale over and fuse them. One
wa\' to overcor e this barrier is speed. lfthe two particles approach each
olhdr with vely high kinetic ener8ies, they may penetrate the barrier and
tirs,,. finally releasing energy.
(;hlrptcr 4 explained that the kinetic enerBies of [he atoms ofa gas increase as
lhe 1?mpcrature ses. So could ahigh temperature raisethe kinetic eler8ies
oflhc deuteron and triton onough to allow fusion? The answer is yes, in
prinLiple;but the temperatures requircd ibr this thermonuclear lusion are
millions of degrees, and under such conditions flot only is aDy material
comp letely vaporiz.ed, but even the electrons are stdpped ftom their atoms
a slate of matter called a plasma. And even if such a plasma could be
prorluced, how could ir bo contdined?'fhis has been the major problem in
iho atiempts to achiovc ct)ntrolled iusion over lhe past halfcentury. ln the
(:or. ,)f thc Su)r, at a temperalure o[ 15 million degrees Colsius, enormous
8ra\ itatioDal lorces hold tho plasma. On Earth, other means are needed to
corri in the high-temperature mass of char8ed particles, and some of the
systcms that have beeD tried will be considered in the next chapter.

10. l0 Summary
Tl .r essentials
'l'hi: i:haprcr has extended th. accour)ls of tvpes ot energy and the nature
oI nL"tier in (lhapter.l. Its contenl mav be sunmarized as follou,s:
a,r intlodlrction to radioactivity, th0 inevitable acconlpaniment lo n u.ilear

ar accijirnl ol rhcrmal[ission reaclors:their Nodes o{ oporation essentifll

comp(!nerts alrd safetv aspacts. with brief descriptions ol specific
leackrls in prcsent-day use
short irlirodu(:tions to other nuclear oPtions that will b(: treated in ore
dclail in th€ next chapler.

in cor' ilusion
In looking at the uses of nuclear energy, we notice one maior difference
from earLier chapters. There, we have seen a multiPlicity ofsystems Lrsing
drfferent tvpes of energy for a range of different purposes Here we find
that almost all present-day operational nuclcar_fuel led systcms are versions
of iLlst one typ;i a tlennoi rission , eoaJor, used for one msin purpose: the
Be :nemti o 1 o f e I ect ric i I),.

Thrs.aisirs jnteresting questions. Arc there fundamental reasons for this

limited civii use ofnuclear energy? Is it an intrinsic feature ofthe resource.
or a consoquence ofits association with weapons issues' or iusl therestrlt
oia series if financial or political decisions? The iext chapter will address,
lhcse moie complex issues - not only the possibilities of new types o[
n,.rclear plant, but the many other questions thal alise whon wo consider
thc future lor nuclear power.