Advantages of Nuclear Power Plants - Big Hope in the Minute Atom

The energy demands of the world are continuously increasing. Experts are worried about the future of power generation because there are not enough supplies of coal, water and gas to fulfill the needs of mankind in the long term future. Alternative sources of energy such as nuclear energy are being developed. Nuclear energy has several advantages over other sources of energy because it is not limited by space or location. In this article we will learn about nuclear power plants and some of the basic underlying concepts.

What is a Nuclear Power Plant?
As the name itself suggests, a nuclear power plant is a facility where nuclear energy is harnessed to generated electricity. For those of us who haven¶t heard about this term, it may seem like a new concept since we usually hear of atomic and hydrogen bombs which use nuclear energy for large scale destruction. But the same power is used for constructive purposes in nuclear power plants The basic underlying principle of a nuclear power plant can be understood from the equation of mass-energy equivalence which is stated as follows E = ¨mc2 Where E is the amount of energy released when a change in mass occurs during a nuclear reaction. This equation may not seem very complicated to you, but as you know ³c´ represents the speed of light which is of the order of 3 lakh kilometers per second. Just imagine the amount of energy released even if a tiny amount of mass is converted into energy. This gives an edge to nuclear power plants over conventional sources like coal or gas because it means freedom from geographical factors and parameters. Furthermore since the amount of fuel required is much less as compared to conventional sources of power generation, there is no need to have extensive storage facilities and transportation networks for the same amount of power generated.

Basic Nuclear Reactions

Nuclear reactions fall into two major categories: fission and fusion. Fission refers to the nuclear reaction where a heavy nucleus is broken into nuclei of intermediate atomic number. Fusion refers to the nuclear reaction wherein light nuclei get combined to form a new nucleus. Energy can be either released or absorbed during the process depending on whether the final mass of the products is greater than or less than the initial mass of the reactants.

The Chain Reaction
The above mentioned types of reactions are not of much use for generating electrical energy on their own. We require something known as a controlled chain reaction if power is to be generated in a nuclear power plant. When fission is started in a nuclear material it could die out slowly, sustain itself constantly or develop into an uncontrolled reaction. The first and the last options are not useful for generation of electricity. It is only when we have a sustained reaction, that we can utilize nuclear energy in an effective manner There are lots of other interesting things to be learnt about nuclear power plants regarding their working, layout, processes and so forth which we shall do in later articles in this series.

How Does a Nuclear Power Plant Work?

Whenever the term nuclear power plant is mentioned, it usually brings images of the Chernobyl disaster into mind, or related images of the nuclear technology triggered device which destroyed 2 cities of Japan during the Second World War. I agree that these incidents were very unfortunate and should have never happened in the first place, but believe me when I say that nuclear power is quite safe. Though nuclear energy has devastating capabilities such incidents or accidents mainly happen due to human errors of carelessness or prejudice. Otherwise nuclear technology is as safe as any other technology used to generate electricity and possibly much more effective in several situations. You will appreciate this viewpoint better once you know how does a nuclear power plant work?

The Energy Mass Ratio
In order to give you an idea about the scale of fuel quantities involved in a nuclear power station vis-à-vis traditional power stations, I ask you to imagine that around a pound of nuclear fuel like say Uranium gives the energy equivalent to burning a million gallons of gasoline. This should not come as a surprise since we have already learned that the energy released in a nuclear

reaction is the equivalent of the mass change which takes place during the process. It is therefore huge compared to energy which is released as a result of combustion and related chemical reactions during traditional fuel burning.

How Does it All Work?
It is all very well to hear that tremendous energy lies within atomic particles, which is converted into electrical energy in a nuclear power plant. The million dollar question is- how is it achieved? Well the nuclear energy isn¶t converted directly into electricity but the heat released during the fission reaction is used to convert water into steam which in turn runs a turbine. The turbine turns the alternator which produces electricity to be fed into the power grid. Of course the overall process is not as simple as it seems and there are several types of nuclear power plants which are classified according to different parameters, which will be discussed in separate articles on this topic. One concept which must be well understood in context of nuclear power plants is the critical mass of the fuel used. We know that fission occurs whenever an atom splits into two or more components. Let us take the case of U 235 which splits to give 2-3 neutrons in the process which in turn strike other atoms and cause further splitting. This chain can only be sustained if the mass of U 235 is of a certain minimum value known as the critical mass. Below this critical value the reaction would ultimately die out, while if the critical value is exceeded it may result in the likes of an atomic bomb. The above statement might have sent jitters down your spine, but just relax. Technology is quite advanced these days and so nuclear power plants simply do not blow up every other day as if they were nuclear bombs . The very few incidents that have occurred to date were mainly caused by carelessness.

Safety Measures for Nuclear Power Plants

No industrial activity or operation is without its inherent risks. In fact the same goes for all facets of life. Nevertheless certain activities and operations have the potential of great damage not only for the person handling those operations but for society in general. Nuclear technology and nuclear power generation are certainly one of those areas where the potential for damage is literally unlimited if something goes wrong. This has been observed time and again through

so that nuclear power becomes an obedient servant and not a terrible master to humanity. y The Building: since the nuclear power plant has exothermic nuclear reactions going on inside its core. Monitoring: human beings working inside the power plant need to be constantly monitored for any over exposure of radiation as a result of their routine job operations. Proper Emergency Response Plans: nobody wants an accident to happen but things do go out of control sometimes either due to human error or machinery failure. The Core: this is the place where the actual reaction takes place. but we will certainly have a look at some of the most basic features relating to nuclear power plant safety. it is very important that the structure housing this reactor should be made from relevant materials which have the appropriate capacity to shield the outside environment both during normal operations as well as minimize risk of damage in case of unfortunate accidents such as the Chernobyl blast. fauna and the natural environment. All these types of wastes have their own methods of disposal and the main idea is to dispose off these wastes in a manner which is least harmful for human beings. The best thing is to be prepared for such a situation and have properly trained personnel as well as the requisite equipment in order to deal effectively with such situations. It would not be possible to go into the full details of the safety aspect in this article. material. Hence safety measures for nuclear power plants must be followed strictly. y y y y If the above mentioned dictums are followed properly. liquid and gaseous. The standards laid down in this regard should be strictly adhered to and the working environment should be regularly checked for radiation levels.various accidents which happened in different parts of the world at different times such as that of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. flora. it would ensure that the tremendous energy which lies in the atom is harnessed in a proper manner without causing damage to men. Nuclear Power Plant Safety Safety should be ensured in a nuclear power plant from all aspects and during all stages: from the inception of the plant as an idea to its full fledged commissioning providing continuous source of power to the requisite purpose. These waste materials come in different forms such as solid. Appropriate measures must be taken to maintain ideal conditions via control rods and core cooling. Waste Disposal: one of the most challenging tasks is the proper disposal of waste materials from the nuclear power plant. or environment. Fission occurs with the release of neutrons causing further fission thus sustaining a chain reaction. Types of Nuclear Power Plants Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) 4 Comments .

The water used in the primary circuit is different from that used in the secondary circuit and there is no intermixing between the two. In one of the circuits water is heated to a high temperature and kept at high pressure as well.Home > Engineering > Mechanical Engineering > Energy/ Power Plants Types of Nuclear Power Plants Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) is a type of a nuclear power reactor that uses enriched Uranium as a fuel which in turn heats the light water used for producing steam. In fact for a typical 1000 MW plant just around 5 dozen control rods are sufficient. except for heat transfer which takes place in the boiler or heat exchanger. combined with the fact that enriched Uranium is used as fuel instead of normal Uranium. The point of interaction between these two circuits is the heat exchanger or the boiler wherein heat from the superheated high pressure water converts the water in the secondary circuit to steam. Advantages of PWR y y y y y Much fewer control rods are required in a PWR. One feature which makes a PWR reactor very suitable for practical applications is its positive demand coefficient which serves to increase the output as a direct proportion to demand of power. steam which is used to run the turbine-alternator arrangement. leads to the construction of very compact core size for a given power output. The main feature which differentiates it from a BWR nuclear reactor is that a PWR has a separate arrangement to make steam in the form of a heat exchanger The Arrangement of PWR A pressurized water reactor (PWR) is a type of power plant reactor consisting of two basic circuits having light water as the working fluid. so that it does not get converted into a gaseous state.e. A PWR has got a high power density and this. it makes it very easy for the maintenance staff to inspect the components of the secondary circuit without having to shut down the power plant entirely. The secondary circuit consists of water at high pressure in the gaseous state i. Since the two circuits are independent of each other. This superheated water is used as a coolant and a moderator for the nuclear reactor core hence the name PWR or pressurized water reactor. This means that the water used in the turbine side is free .

Read on for some interesting information about BWR. coolant. The BWR Reactor: 3 in 1 Functionality The main beauty of a BWR lies in the fact that the same water is used for all three purposes as a moderator. high pressure water which accelerates corrosion. Nothing new. BWR or boiling water reactor plants form an important variety amongst the commonly used types of power plants. to driving the heavy steam engine (although they are hardly seen these days). PWR fuel charging requires the plant to be shut down and this certainly requires a long time period of the order of at least a couple of months. and the source for steam which drives the turbine blades. It basically consists of a dome shaped structure which has heating coils which are used to increase or decrease pressure as and when required depending on varied load conditions Types of Nuclear Power Plants Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) are types of power plants that work similar to a pressure cooker where steam is generated from heat within the reactor core which in turn is used to drive the turbine blades that turns the generator. Introduction Steam possesses immense power and we see that in a lot of applications in every day life. This is achieved by installing a device known as pressure equalizer in the primary circuit. The pressure in the secondary circuit is relatively quite low as compared to the primary circuit hence the thermodynamic efficiency of PWR reactors is quite low of the order of 20 Pressure Equalizer One important point to note here is that despite the changing loads the pressure in the primary circuit needs to be maintained at a constant value. you might say. This steam can also be used to generate electricity by driving a turbine alternator arrangement with it. in the form of exothermic heat from a nuclear fission reaction.from radioactive steam hence the piping on that side is not required to be clad with special shielding materials. but then here water is not boiled by traditional heat sources but using the heat of the atom. Drawbacks of PWR y y y The primary circuit consists of high temperature. This means that the vessel should be constructed of very strong material such as stainless steel which adds to construction costs of PWR. right from the pressure cooker which makes those stubborn pulses soft. Water passes over .

The Fuel used in this type of reactor is enriched Uranium. This is due to the very fact of self balancing as explained in the previous point which is good for a fixed load but makes it a drawback when dealing with sudden increases of load. However the good news is that the half life of the radioactive steam is just of the order of 15 minutes which is manageable. Gas Cooled Reactors in Nuclear Plants As the name itself suggests. One of the biggest drawbacks of a BWR reactor is its inefficiency to deal with sudden increase in load. it reduces the complexity of the arrangement and related costs. it tends to be slightly radioactive. This increase of steam is accompanied by a decrease of density of the coolant which also acts as the moderator hence pushing the fuel towards sub-critical zone. . Since the same water is used for all purposes including moderation and cooling. thus completing the closed loop cycle. The used steam from the turbines is then fed into the condenser which coverts it into liquid state to be fed again into the reactor core. A BWR has self controlling characteristic which stems from the fact that an increase in reactivity causes increase of steam formation in the reactor. Benefits and Drawbacks y y y y y Since there is no need for a separate boiler arrangement to produce steam unlike in some other types of nuclear reactors. Hence we see that a boiling water reactor is pretty useful due to its good thermal efficiency. Hence when this water is fed to the turbines. and the heat extracted by the gas during the process of cooling the reactor is used either indirectly to generate steam which in turn is used for turbine propulsion. a gas cooled reactor is cooled using a gas. Moreover this leads to a reduced size of the reactor for a given amount of output. moderator and steam generator. Of course both these approaches have their own set of features and limitations. The moderator used in these types of reactors is Graphite which offers the advantages of being stable under conditions of high radiation as well as high temperatures.the reactor core absorbing heat and turning into steam which is fed to the turbine blades. smaller size per unit power output and its characteristic to use water as coolant. The chances of fuel getting "burnt out" are significant in a BWR reactor mainly because water is in direct contact with fuel and when the same water gets converted to steam it may blank parts of the fuel surface from coming in contact with water thus leading to such a situation. or this heated coolant could be used directly as the working fluid of the gas turbine thus eliminating the need for a separate steam circuit. they need to be shielded for this very reason.

Of course certain practical considerations do limit these ranges but certainly they are more than those available for water. Gases are more flexible in terms of the temperatures and pressure ranges to which they can be subject to as compared to water. Gas cooled reactors are more stable and safe because the reactivity of the reactor is not a function of the quantity of gas present in the core. The main feature of such a system is that it gives the highest thermal efficiency of all types of nuclear reactors which are currently being used in the industry and typically gives efficiency of the order of nearly 42% within moderate operating temperatures. 3. The gases are less prone to react chemically with the structural material of the reactor unlike water which has higher affinity for chemical reactions with these elements. Features of Gas Cooled Reactors 1. The main drawback of these plants is there low power density which requires large size of the reactor for relatively smaller power requirements . There is no need for cladding the metallic fuel which leads to simple fuel processing techniques as compared to other types of reactors where cladding is necessary 3.Gases used for Cooling There are several options available to choose for the coolant including gases but mainly carbon dioxide and helium are used as coolants apart from hydrogen in certain situations. Indirect Circuit And indirect circuit consists of cooling gas in the primary circuit while the secondary circuit consists of water as the working fluid which is converted into steam using a heat exchanger. The advantages that a gaseous coolant offers over light or heavy water are as follows 1. Hence if a gas leak occurs accidentally the reactor would be much safer than a similar leak developed in water cooled reactor Direct Circuit As described above the direct system uses the same gas which is used as a coolant to act as the working fluid rotating the turbine blades from the enthalpy generated during heat absorption during the reactor cooling process. If CO2 is used as the cooling gas it eliminates the possibility of explosion which is always present in water cooled reactors 2. 2. Thermodynamically speaking Helium offers the best alternative since it has a high specific heat and low capture cross section for thermal neutrons but it is much expensive as compared to carbon-dioxide.

fissile has something to do with fission and you are right about this. and the nuclear fuel cycle. We all know fertile nuclide include the U-235 isotope of Uranium and Thorium Th-232.4. namely the fuel rods used in the reactor core. What is a Fertile Nuclide? Whereas a fissile nuclide can achieve fission with any neutron. The commonly known fissile nuclides are isotopes of Uranium and Plutonium namely U-233. Burning takes place in case of chemical reactions. its low neutron absorbing capacity makes it unsuitable for load control Components of Nuclear Power Plant Fuel A nuclear power plant is not much different from a conventional power plant except for the manner in which heat is generated using nuclear reactions. No doubt fuel rods top the list in the components of nuclear power plants for there would be no "fire" without the fuel. Although Helium is an excellent cooling medium from the thermodynamic point of view. If you are wondering why the name fertile is given to a seemingly infertile nucleus. Shape of Fuel Used Fuel is usually placed within the reactor core in the form of fuel rods which are fabricated and placed within the reactor in such a manner so that it leads to a uniform production of heat within the reactor. A fissile material is that which attains fission when hit by a neutron of any energy level. What is a Fissile Nuclide? As you must have surely guessed. Actually a fertile nuclide becomes fissile upon absorption of the appropriate neutron hence the name fertile. a fertile nuclide is one which requires neutrons of more than a certain level of energy to achieve the same usually in the range of 1-MeV. Both these processes are exothermic but the latter leads to much more release of thermal energy as compared to chemical reactions for similar quantities of fuel. Introduction Fuel is needed for any energy producing process and refers to the material which is either burned or altered in order to produce energy. let me explain the reason to you. . U-235. We will study one very important component of nuclear power plants here. whilst alternation takes place in the nuclear reactions. Pu-239 and Pu-241. There are two types of reactors based on the manner in which the fuel and moderator are placed within the core as follows.

This makes the target unstable and makes it split into two parts accompanied with the release of energy which is utilized to generate electricity. no matter whether it is good or bad. In this case the fuel rods are often clad with different materials including Aluminium. Stainless Steel or Zirconium which help to prevent oxidation of Uranium. fuel is not thrown or dumped away at any random place but is placed and packaged properly in order to prevent contamination of the biosphere. A heterogeneous reactor on the other hands has pure fuel in the form of rods or plates while the moderator surrounds the fuel elements separately. . burning of fuel and final disposal. Infact there is a range of energy within which they can cause fission.1. There is a certain threshold below which the neutron will not be absorbed by the target nucleus. The homogenous reactor is one in which the fuel and moderator are mixed to form a uniform mixture which is then placed in the form of rods and plates inside the reactor core. A moderator is one of the important components of nuclear power plant helping to maintain neutron population in the thermal energy range. Neutrons which fall above that range are known as fast neutrons and they are not readily absorbed by the target nucleus and hence not useful in sustaining a chain reaction. Usually extreme of anything is bad. it is known as a closed fuel cycle otherwise it is known as open fuel cycle. The Fuel Cycle The fuel cycle with regards to the nuclear power plant refers to the total process of preparation of fuel. Just learn few basic concepts about moderation and moderators in context of nuclear power plants Introduction The nuclear fission reaction consists of bombarding fuels such as Uranium with energetic neutrons. Components of Nuclear Power Plant Moderator Moderation is necessary in all aspects of life if one has to achieve success. It is no wonder the same principle applies to nuclear reactions as well. but that does not mean that above that threshold any neutron can cause fission. These fuel materials certainly act as the backbone of nuclear industry and will help to achieve a powerful source of viable alternative energy for our future energy requirements. If the fuel from the last stage is recycled to be used again in the nuclear reactor. Of course in the former case. We learnt a few basic things about the fuels used in nuclear power plants in this article. 2.

cold neutrons. There is a special class of reactors known as fast reactors which do not use moderators but depend on the use of fast moving neutrons for causing fission.Several materials such as Graphite. Even otherwise it must be remembered that fast moving neutrons have lesser probability of getting absorbed and causing fission but it does not mean that they are incapable of causing the fission reaction. . The only flipside of using light-water is that the fuel has to be enriched to use with water Deuterium . The mechanism of speed control works in such a way that fast moving neutrons strike the nuclei of moderator material which is not efficient at absorbing them but simply slows them down with repeated collisions thus bringing them into the thermal zone. Beryllium. Now these fast neutrons have to be slowed down and brought to lower energy levels if they have to cause successful fission in turn. Lithium are used in different types of reactors as moderators Is it always necessary? Although moderators are necessary in most nuclear reactors this does not mean to say that all reactors require moderators. Materials for Moderator There are several materials which are used for the purpose including the following y y y Normal or Light Water is used in majority of the reactors simply because of its cheap and abundant availability. As you must have understood above. a moderator is a medium which is used to absorb a portion of the kinetic energy of fast neutrons so that they come in the category of thermal neutrons which help to sustain a controlled chain reaction. Just to give you a relative idea a fast moving neutron travels with a speed which is nearly in the region of 10% of the speed of light.The Moderator The problem lies in the fact that whenever a thermal neutron causes fission it also leads to the release of fast neutrons. It is here that the concept of a moderator comes in the picture. ultra cold neutrons and so forth. Deuterium is costly to manufacture as compared to light water but gives the option of using un-enriched fuel in the reactor which is a big advantage Miscellaneous .also known as heavy water in common terminology. while a thermal neutron travels with a speed which is typically of the order of a few kilometers per second. There are also other categories of neutrons based on their energy levels such as slow neutrons.

The Reflection Process As we know the reactor consists of the fission process which occurs when a thermal energy neutron is absorbed by the target nucleus leading to its division into two nuclei and emission of 2 or 3 neutrons apart from the heat energy. Low absorption .since the reflector material will be exposed to high levels of radiation. the lack of which could simply extinguish the fission process.this is necessary since if the reflecting material itself starts to absorb the very neutrons it is supposed to reflect back. In fact the term reflection refers to any wave or particle being thrown back after hitting a reflecting surface. High reflection .this is an obvious property and does not need any explanation for that is the very purpose for which the reflector exists in the core 3. These neutrons fly randomly in all directions and are usually in the region of fast moving energy neutrons. Materials used as Reflectors There are a variety of materials which are used as a reflecting medium for neutrons and whatever material is used for the process. it must possess these properties.Components of Nuclear Power Plant Reflector The chain reaction inside a nuclear reactor is what sustains combustion of the fuel which in turn depends on ample supply of thermal energy neutrons within the core. This might hinder the progression of a chain reaction which is very necessary for the nuclear reactor. then the purpose of installing the reflector material would itself be defeated and it would be better not to install any reflector at all. rendering the device useless for producing power. Hence a reflector holds an important position amongst the components of nuclear power plant. but many of these neutrons may simply get lost by flying off the reactor core and thus serving no useful purpose. This principle is extremely useful in the reactor core and helps to maintain an ample amount of thermal energy neutrons. In order to reduce this process of neutron loss the inner surface of the reactor core is surrounded by a material which helps to reflect these escaping neutrons back towards the core of the reactor and these materials are known as reflecting materials. it is but natural to assume that it should have a high stability towards radiation . A reflector material is used to ensure that neutrons do not simply fly off the reactor leaving little room for the chain reaction to continue Introduction The principle of reflection is fairly simple and we come across it in our everyday lives. Radiation stability . 1. It is the same principle of reflection which lets you see how you look in a mirror by reflecting the light waves. The moderator is used to control the speed of these neutrons so that they act usefully in creating more fission. 2.

4. It also reduces the consumption of the fissile material. Some of the desired properties of an ideal coolant are as follows y A coolant should not absorb neutrons or should have a minimum neutron absorption cross section. heavy water and carbon are mostly used as reflectors since they possess the above mentioned characteristics. Therefore a coolant is necessary to ensure that this heat is taken away and utilized in a proper manner. The reason for this is obvious since this function should be left to the moderator and not the coolant. Hence they serve the dual purpose of a reflector and a moderator as well. Properties of an Ideal Coolant There are some properties of the coolant which are necessary to ensure safety of the reactor and well as proper performance of the coolant for the intended purpose. Introduction The immense amount of heat energy present in the nuclear reactor core needs to be transferred in some manner so that it is converted into electrical energy. This also helps to keep the working temperature of the core within safe limits for the materials used in the construction of the reactor. Hence a coolant plays an important role in components of nuclear power plant and serves the dual purpose of removing the heat from the reactor as well as transferring it to the electricity generation circuit either directly or indirectly depending on the type of nuclear reactor being used for the purpose. The use of a proper reflector helps to reduce the size of the reactor core for a given power output since the number of neutrons leaking are lesser and help to propagate the fission process instead. There light water. Resistance to Oxidation .the material should not get oxidized otherwise it will fail to serve the requisite purpose In actual practice there may not be a different material for moderator and reflector for the simple reason that most of the moderators also possess the above mentioned properties of a good reflector as well. Components of Nuclear Power Plant Coolant A nuclear reactor is a source of intense heat which is generated through the exothermic fission reactions taking place inside the core. .

nitrogen. the appropriate coolant is preferred. It can be well imagined that the above list is quite extensive and therefore there is hardly any material which satisfies all the above criteria to the maximum possible extent. carbondioxide. Therefore different types of coolants are used in different types of reactors depending on various factors and parameters. Since a coolant needs to circulate using a pump it should be capable of being pumped easily so that least amount of energy is spent in pumping the coolant. different coolants are used in different circumstances and some of the commonly used coolants are light water. A coolant should be non-corrosive in nature otherwise it might tend to damage and corrode the very core which is meant to be protected by it through proper removal of heat. it is obvious that it should posses excellent resistance to both high temperatures as well as high levels of radiation.y y y y Since a coolant is exposed to high temperatures and well as severe levels of radiation. Commonly Used Coolants Since no single material qualifies as an ideal coolant. heavy water. liquids and gases and depending on the type of the reactor. In case the coolant is a liquid it should have a high boiling point so that it does not get evaporated due to the high heat inside the reactor. Coolants used in nuclear reactors could be either in the liquid state or in the solid state. But in case it is a solid it should have a relatively low melting point due to obvious reasons. . sodium-potassium mixture and so on. helium. sodium. It can be seen that the coolants used vary from solids. It must be also kept in mind that sometimes a coolant is used to transfer heat to the working fluid in the secondary circuit through a heat exchanger while in other cases it is directly used in the turbine to rotate the blades and then fed back to the reactor after cooling in the condenser.

It is not only necessary and sufficient to start the chain reaction but it is equally necessary to ensure that the reaction is sustained in the long run as long as the power requirements are present. the reactor would simply go haywire. heat and energy which is associated with nuclear fission cannot be left on its own but needs to be controlled in a predictable manner. What do Control Rods Do? . This maxim is usually associated with politics but applies equally to a nuclear reactor as well. Unless there is something to control the immense power that a nuclear reaction wields. Why the Need to Control? It does not require much reflection to imagine why proper control is necessary with in nuclear reactor. In the absence of such a reaction the process would soon die out. the tremendous power. the reactor needs to be shut down quickly in order to prevent any major disaster like say Chernobyl which could be very costly in terms of loss to life and environment. It is here that controls rods come in the picture and form an important part of the components of nuclear power plant. Fuel rods inside the reactor should be prevented from melting or getting disintegrated and therefore a control mechanism is absolutely necessary. Some of the basic reasons are as follows. y y y y A nuclear chain reaction should be started when a reactor fires from the cold condition.Components of Nuclear Power Plant Control Rods What do control rods in a nuclear power plant do? It has been often said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. In case of emergency situations such as a sudden mechanical or structural damage. We have seen the reasons for controlling and taming the wild nuclear power and the best method to achieve this is through the use of control rods which can be inserted or withdrawn from the core and help to control the nuclear reactions taking place inside the reactor. Introduction Nuclear fission is a source of tremendous energy which could be either used for destructive purposes such as nuclear weapons or constructive purposes such as a nuclear reactor for producing electrical energy. Even though a nuclear reactor in a power plant has got peaceful intentions.

moderation and reflected in order to contain them within the reactor core so that a sustained and controlled chain reaction takes place but what do you think happens to the other by-products? Just read on to find out why a shielding is one of the important components of nuclear power plant. iridium. boron. But this is not the only product of nuclear fuel "combustion" but there are several other by-products such as alpha rays. radiation shielding is required to prevent this harmful radiation from leaving the reactor and affecting the outside men and materials. gamma rays and of course the fast moving neutrons. The fast moving neutrons are controlled. beta rays. silver and hafnium. Infact you can imagine the function of a control rod just like a blotting paper which sucks the extra ink that has spilled somewhere but doesn't let it spread in a wider region. The commonly used materials which satisfy these criteria include cadmium. Components of Nuclear Power Plant Shielding A nuclear reaction is a source of intense radiation apart from the heat generated in the exothermic process. For purposes of safety of a reactor in case the lifting mechanism also suffers a failure. Radiation leakage would be very harmful for the personnel working in the nuclear plant as well as the nearby flora and fauna. the control are arranged in such a way that they will get into the stop position and shut down the reactor completely in such a case. The mechanism of control consists of arranging control rods in assembles which are usually mounted vertically within the reactor core and are inserted into the guide tubes with the fuel elements. you guessed it right. Another property of control rods is that the material should not start a fission reaction despite the heavy absorption of neutrons. Hence we see that control rods tend to provide a mechanism wherein the immense nuclear energy can be tamed within reasonable limits and ensure safety and security of the reactor as well the outside environment. Introduction As you know when a nucleus gets split into two parts during the fission process it results in the production of large amounts of heat energy since the reaction is exothermic in nature. .One property which is a must for control rod material is the heavy absorption capacity for neutrons so that they can carry out the control function effectively. These by-products in the form of different kinds of radiation would simply leak out into the atmosphere in the absence of proper arrangements to prevent this. The Radiation Yes. Because of the risk.

This makes clear the case for having a proper shield so that these radiations get absorbed within the reactor without having a chance to escape into open air. This is done by using materials which are good absorbents of the same. Concrete and steel are very good at absorbing radiation and they are equally strong as well, hence used in forming the shielding material.

The Shield
The question now arises that how much thickness of these materials should be used to prevent radiation from leaking out into the atmosphere? If you just compare it with the amount of thickness of typical steel plate required for preventing a powerful bullet from going across it you are in for a surprise. Although I am not a weapons expert but I know for sure that for stopping ordinary bullets a few mm of steel plate should be sufficient and a few cm of plate should be sufficient to stop even the most powerful of guns. You might wonder that if such a thickness is required for a bullet which is quite bulky and dangerous, then only a couple of mm should be sufficient for humble intangible rays and neutrons but if you think so you are utterly wrong. A typical reactor core would require an inner lining which is of the order of nearly half a meter thickness of steel (don't gasp for breath). The icing on the cake is that even this much thick steel is not considered entire safe. It is further reinforced by using a few meters of concrete to make it safer. This should give you an idea about how powerful these radiations are and their penetrating capability. It is also interesting to note that the amount of radiation to which human beings could be exposed safely without causing any harm to the body is expressed in units of rad and rem which give the amount of absorbed radiation from different perspectives.

Components of Nuclear Power Plant Reactor Vessel
A nuclear reactor consists of various parts which carry out different functions related to heat generation by burning of nuclear fuel, but a housing is needed to contain all these parts and act as a covering for all these paraphernalia

Just imagine if your beautiful body did not have the cover of the skin, and when you met any individual you could simply see through their various organs and into their "dirty" workings. This would certainly be not a very pleasing sight and would take out the very charm of human personality. This is not much different in the case of nuclear reactors as well. I cannot imagine going to a nuclear power plant just to find that the reactor core, fuel rods, control rods etc are all lying bare bones without any proper cover of enclosure. Hence the outside component of nuclear power plant is very important and is known as the reactor vessel.

Reactor Vessel

Vessels are often used to cook food, and though a nuclear reactor may not be cooking food directly for you, it certainly provides a source of an equally valuable food for the society: electrical energy. But apart from the cooking business there are a lot of functions which a nuclear reactor vessel has to perform and some of these are as follows.
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It acts to enclose the various parts inside the reactor including the core, shield, reflector etc. The coolant needs a passage to flow through the reactor so that it can be used to transfer the heat to the working fluid or the turbine directly, as the case may be, and this passage is provided by the reactor vessel. To withstand the high pressure with exists inside the reactor and could be of the order of 200 kgf/cm2, to provide a safe working environment for all concerned. Control of the nuclear reaction is absolutely necessary and this is done with the help of control rods. The reactor vessel provides a place to insert these control rods in the nuclear reactor and move them in or out of the reactor core depending on the requirements of power.

The Pressure Vessel
Although the reactor vessel has been compared to a cookery vessel in the common usage of the term, technically speaking it is more of a pressure vessel. There are legal implications associated with defining a pressure vessel and these vary with the country in which it is being used or manufactured. Different countries have different authorities which govern rules and regulations regarding pressure vessels and in the US this is done by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code. The material used for the construction of a nuclear vessel is usually steel which would be expected as the material has to be very strong and resilient. Pressure vessels of all kinds are subject to various tests to check for their strength against laid down standards which is very important to ensure safety of these vessels. This is more so important in the case of nuclear reactor vessels which house source of intense raditaions and heat energy. Hence we see that though a nuclear reactor vessel may not be performing any useful function directly in the generation of electrical energy, it acts to hold together all major components of the power plant.

Nuclear Waste Disposal Methods
Every useful process does leave behind some waste in one form or the other. When the process is as sensitive as the nuclear reaction, the waste obviously has to be handled very carefully. Read here how nuclear power plant waste is treated!

It is all very well to eat the fruits (electricity) of labour (nuclear reaction) in a nuclear power plant setup but the reaction also leaves behind some waste materials which should be disposed off and discarded in a proper manner, simply because of the reason that it is a radioactive waste hence cannot be dumped like some ordinary waste material A nuclear reaction leads to the production of various types of wastes during different stages of the reaction. These waste materials could include all three phases of matter namely solid, liquid as well as gaseous. Needless to say these wastes are radioactive in nature and need to be disposed off in such a manner that human society, flora, fauna and the environment in general are not harmed by them. Different methods are used to dispose off each of these wastes and these are disposed off in ground, air or water as the case may be.

Ground is a resource which is available in plenty and offers one of the cheapest methods of disposal of nuclear waste. Earth has got good radio activity absorption capacity but the problem is that if the waste is buried at the ground water level, the water would get poisoned from "radioactivity" and hence they have to be buried at a lesser depth. Sometimes used coal mines which are not mined for coal anymore and the solid wastes are buried in them within heaps of sodium chloride. Usually solid radioactive waste is buried few meters deep in water for nearly 3 months. This leads to disappearance of a major proportion of their radioactivity after which it is buried in the ground.

The gaseous wastes can be left freely in the air but the problem here is that these gases will get absorbed by the plants and finally will get into the human food chain thus entering the human body and causing serious health hazards in the long run as the number of nuclear reactors in the world increases. Hence another safe method is to collect the gases in solid containers and keep them buried in ground; then disperse them off in the air when their radioactivity levels fall to considerably lower level.

Liquid Liquid wastes of highly radioactive nature are first enclosed in concrete containers and buried inside the ground just like solid wastes till the decay of their radioactivity. it must be always kept in mind that the safety of all forms of life is of utmost importance and should not be compromised even if it means taking some extra pains or incurring some extra costs to properly dispose off the waste material. . Whatever be the method of disposal of radioactive waste materials. Only then the nuclear energy would be useful for the human race in the long run and our future generations will also benefit from it. Other lesser toxic wastes are disposed off directly into the oceans but care should be taken to see that the sea life is not affected in a harmful manner.

when the first Russian nuclear plant generated power for their national grid. Nowadays however. Enriched uranium is used as thq fuel in reactors. Since then many types of nuclear reactors have been designed and are operating world-wide. for five or six years. underground workings are well ventilated with large air ducts expelling the radon gas. Canada. and in particular the use of uranium and thorium as nuclear fuel and subsequent radioactive waste produced. when irradiated Thorium-232 is used as a fuel.Uranium 235 Vs. However. with Thorium being one of these options.7% U235. producing High Level Wastes such as Plutonium-238 (half life 87 yrs).25% U238. it is projected to produce up to 10.000 times less long-lived radioactive waste than uranium-235. and Australia in that order. These remain at very high temperatures and must be kept under water in ponds. Underground mining for uranium ore used to be a very hazardous occupation with many miners suffering from effects of radon gas. Thorium 90 Compared .Nuclear Power Generation Perspective Uranium ± 235 is currently used as fuel in the world¶s nuclear reactors. traditional open pit and underground mining being the most popular techniques. Uranium Extraction and Enrichment. 0. y Mining the Uranium Ore There are several methods currently in use to mine uranium ore. normally at the nuclear plant. The uranium ore contains about 99. This is another article on Nuclear Energy. The Extraction and Processing of fuels used in Nuclear Power Generation. The top three countries mining uranium ore are Kazakhstan. Alternative fuels have been investigated to power nuclear reactors. and trace amounts of U234. Uranium and Thorium Nuclear Power Nuclear power has been producing thermal energy since the mid-fifties. . but it has the ever present inherent trait of producing high level waste and actinides in the form of plutonium and curium. We begin with a look at how the different fuels can be extracted and processed.

Thorium Extraction The sodium hydroxide is heated in a vessel to around 140 C (284 F) for 3 hours which produces a mud-like solution. it is further processed to yellow cake that contains many uranium oxides. with the help of modern technology many countries use nuclear power plants to generate electricity and the number of nuclear power plants is increasing every year. Even with such an advantage. This is further processed using various screening/filtration techniques from which Thorium Oxide (ThO2) is produced which can now be further processed to nuclear fissile material. and leaching in acid. Countries with Nuclear Power Plants Which country generates most of it electricity from nuclear energy power plants? Which country has the most number of nuclear energy power plants? How many countries have nuclear energy power plants? Countries that Use Nuclear Energy Power Plants Generating electricity from nuclear energy causes little pollution when compared to the pollution caused when the same amount of electricity is generated using thermal energy or other nonrenewable energy resources. In addition there is a risk of a nuclear accident like the one at Chernobyl. This is then fed into a dilution vessel where water at 100C is injected to dissolve the valuable sodium phosphates that are later extracted. Disposing of the nuclear waste is very difficult and needs to be done after a lot of planning by the experts.The U235 is extracted from the ore through crushing. The radioactive waste takes years to be no longer hazardous. this is carried out in a fast or thermal reactor where the thorium-232 is irradiated with uranium 233 and absorbs a neutron converting it to thorium±233U. Let us look look at some statistics that throw more light on the countries that use nuclear energy power plants. the solution is then filtered to remove mixed hydrous oxides that are heated to 150 C. Basically. The fuel is now ready to be loaded into fuel cells and installed into the reactor core. Following this. milling. then being further processed into 3-4% enriched uranium dioxide (UO2) discs or pellets. it is not popular among the common people because the advantage comes at a huge cost. . converting U3O8 into UO3 in the process. In spite of that. and nitric acid added forming an aqueous solution. (U3O8) The yellow cake is calcined and purified. a fertile material which can now be used as a fuel in a thorium nuclear reactor. crushed.

France follows at a far second with energy output of 63 megawatts.Image Source . This is roughly one-fourth of the total nuclear energy produced in the world. The United States tops the list with more than 101 megawatts of power produced.Wikipedia Top 10 Countries that use Nuclear Energy Power Plants in Terms of Power Generated in Megawatts The energy produced by nuclear energy power plants is measured in megawatts. which completes the list of the top five countries that produce electricity from nuclear energy power plants. The Top 10 Countries that use Nuclear Energy Power Plants in Terms of Megawatts of Energy 1) United States of America 2) France 3) Japan 4) Russia 5) Germany 6) South Korea 7) Ukraine 8) Canada 9) United Kingdom 10) Sweden . Japan takes the third place followed by Russia and Germany.

41.4% 5) Armenia .2% 10) South Korea .43.7% 8) Switzerland .56. 10. comes far behind at 16th as only 19. The Top 10 Countries that Use Nuclear Energy Power Plants in Terms of Percentage of Electricity Generated from Nuclear Energy 1) France . Belgium. . Surprisingly smaller countries like Slovakia.42% 7) Slovenia and Croatia share the same place .47.37. Russia.76. Until there is enormous progress in generating power from renewable energy resources like solar power. Ukraine and Armenia complete the top five list. The U. Many more countries are planning to build one and many have already built and are undergoing final checks before the nuclear energy power plants are up and running.4% 3) Belgium . 6 and 4 nuclear power plants under construction.S.8% 4) Ukraine .2% 9) Hungary .53. South Korea.39. it is France that leads the pack when the percentage of electricity generated from nuclear energy is concerned. wind power. and India have 24. All these countries generate an average of more than 50% of the total electricity generated from nuclear energy.5% 6) Sweden .35. France generates more than 76% of its total electricity from nuclear energy.Top 10 Countries that use Nuclear Energy Power Plants in Terms of Percentage of Electricity Generated from Nuclear Energy Although the United States ranks first in the amount of energy produced (in megawatts) from nuclear power plants. 14% of electricity produced in the world is generated from nuclear energy.2% 2) Slovakia .6% The Future of Nuclear Energy The future of generation energy from nuclear energy looks strong as countries like China.7% of the total electricity produced is produced from nuclear energy.

tidal energy. The resources are limited and the process of mining and refining it is hazardous for the environment. The steam is then used for the production of electric power. power generation from nuclear energy will be more popular than power generation using other conventional methods. The definition of renewable energy entails the long term availability of the energy source. etc. The secure transport of uranium can raise the cost and consumption of energy significantly. the ability to replenish over time. plutonium. large quantities of radioactive waste are produced. The question is whether nuclear energy is actually renewable or not. According to the National Academy of Sciences. and minimum environmental impact. Facts Suggesting that Nuclear Power is not Renewable The most widespread point of view states that nuclear power is not a renewable form of energy. and they cannot be safely stored. and curium. and this is based on a number of clues: y Uranium is not a renewable fuel. y .. Nuclear reactors use radioactive fuel (uranium). in order to heat up water and produce steam. The elements produced have extreme storage requirements and may stay radioactive and dangerous for thousands of years. the nuclear storage sites can always become a target of terrorists. After processing. The processing of uranium results in radioactive waste which consists of unconverted uranium. Is Nuclear Energy a Renewable Resource? Defining Nuclear and Renewable Energy Nuclear power originates from controlled nuclear reactions (basically fission) taking place inside nuclear reactors. Their recycling is costly and ineffective.

Facts Suggesting That Nuclear Power Could Become Renewable Although uranium supplies are limited. nuclear energy could be redefined.could also redefine nuclear energy under a completely new scope. the waste stops being radioactive Nuclear waste can be reprocessed in reprocessing units so that 95% of the spent fuel can be recycled and be returned to usage in a power plant. The reprocessing of nuclear waste is a politically controversial issue and the anti-technology lobby strives to stop nuclear proliferation by emphasizing the high cost of reprocessing and the possibility of terrorism. Fast-breeder nuclear reactors have the capability to produce large amounts of fissionable plutonium that could sustain nuclear reactions (the splitting of uranium atoms). allowing separate handling (destruction or storage) of the nuclear waste components. The overcoming of practical difficulties regarding nuclear fusion . their conversion to plutonium can considerably extend the available resources.that uses deuterium as a fuel extracted from water (which is regarded as infinite source) . Light water reactors use uranium-235 (0. However if the adjustments of the new reactors and processability of waste would take place after all. at least not if we take into account the current conditions of production and waste disposal. For more information on nuclear waste reprocessing. After a few hundred years. nuclear energy cannot be characterized as renewable. This process of obtaining more reactor fuel than the original could provide the characterization of "semi-renewable" to nuclear energy. This procedure reduces the radio-toxicity and volume of high-level nuclear waste.3% of all natural uranium).7% of all natural uranium). fast breeder reactors or IFRs use uranium-238 (99. . check the following article: "Is Nuclear Waste Recycling Possible?" Is Nuclear Energy Renewable or Not? Despite the contradiction. Another benefit is that the remaining waste becomes less hazardous. Uranium is still a finite fuel source and the breeder reactors processing can become unstable and dangerous. much longer than the conventional fuel. The reprocessing of nuclear waste is still a procedure that doesn't take place the way it should.

The earthquake caused damage to the Fukushima nuclear reactors. here is a brief about the series of events that has now left all the countries with nuclear power plants. of magnitude 9. that Japan saw on March 11th.0 on the Richter scale. . As designed.0 triggered another incident that would have been as disastrous as the damage caused by the earthquake . This has led them to adopt building architectures that are capable of withstanding earthquakes all the way to 6. in deep thoughts about the future of nuclear energy. Japan and Earthquakes The entire land mass that Japan rests is present in a region that experiences lots of earthquakes each year. the backup generators kicked in and the reactor proceeded with its shutdown process. hit Japan. On March 11th of 2011. It was the worst earthquake that the world has ever seen. an earthquake. To the Japanese.Japan Nuclear Meltdown: How it Happened? It is hard not to have come across about what happened in Japan on March 11th. The damage stopped the power source to the reactors before they could shutdown. A Brief About the Japan Nuclear Incident For those who came in late. was something out of the blue. earthquakes are nothing new as they experience a few every year.0. This earthquake not only triggered a tsunami but also damaged the Fukushima I reactor to such an extent that many were afraid of a possible Chernobyl-like incident or something even worse.0 on the Richter scale. But an earthquake of the magnitude 9. The earthquake of magnitude 9.The Fukushima I nuclear accident raising questions about the future nuclear energy.

the best way to tap energy among the non-renewable energy resources but in the event of natural disasters like the one at Japan. things can go wrong and cause damage of a very large degree. After this incident. Therefore these countries have started to spend more on research and development on making the nuclear reactors safer when disasters like above occur. which can be constructed again in a matter of months but when a nuclear reactor is damaged and the radiation leaks out of the reactor. The tsunami reached the reactor and damaged the backup power supply before the nuclear reactor shutdown totally. various countries that have and are building nuclear power reactors have been exposed to the fact that when it comes to mother nature. This led to the increase in nuclear radiation level around the surrounding areas. The damage caused to the nuclear reactor was so bad that the core of the nuclear reactor was exposed in the days that followed. only the property is damaged. anything can happen. This was something that was not expected when the reactor was designed. Also there is a rise in switching over to renewable energy resources that causes no pollution and in the wake of disasters.S Navy Imagery Lessons Learned After the Japan Nuclear Incident Tapping energy from the nuclear energy resources is. In case of damages to thermal power stations. .However this earthquake triggered a tsunami that ravaged a huge area of land and made its way to the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Image Credit: Flickr .2.Official U. a few kilometers of land in the surrounding area can become so highly contaminated with radiation that the entire region may be rendered useless for decades to come. so far. the damage may happen just to the building. although it was designed to withstand earthquakes up to the magnitude of 8. The incomplete shutdown led to the explosion of two reactors (not a nuclear explosion but an explosion due to the build up of gases inside the reactor).

A nuclear reactor produces and controls the release of energy from splitting the atoms of certain elements. This is material in the core which slows down the neutrons released from fission so that they cause more fission. In a nuclear power reactor.* * In a new reactor with new fuel a neutron source is needed to get the reaction going. but may be heavy water or graphite. Uranium is the basic fuel. consumed about six tonnes of that uranium. The steam is used to drive the turbines which produce electricity (as in most fossil fuel plants).Nuclear Power Reactors (updated March 2011) y y y Most nuclear electricity is generated using just two kinds of reactors which were developed in the 1950s and improved since. hafnium or boron. to the system. In most naval reactors. Restarting a reactor with some used fuel may not require this. Control rods. Alpha particles from the decay cause a release of neutrons from the beryllium as it turns to carbon-12. The rods are arranged into fuel assemblies in the reactor core. Moderator. (In a research reactor the main purpose is to utilise the actual neutrons produced in the core. the energy released is used as heat to make steam to generate electricity. It is usually water. steam drives a turbine directly for propulsion. Those at Oklo in west Africa. as there may be enough neutrons to achieve criticality when control rods are removed. These are made with neutron-absorbing material such as cadmium. New designs are coming forward and some are in operation as the first generation reactors come to the end of their operating lives. Usually this is beryllium mixed with polonium. Components of a nuclear reactor There are several components common to most types of reactors: Fuel. and is used to produce steam. each less than 100 kWt.* In some PWR reactors. more than from all sources worldwide in 1960. or to halt it. and are inserted or withdrawn from the core to control the rate of reaction. Usually pellets of uranium oxide (UO2) are arranged in tubes to form fuel rods.) The principles for using nuclear power to produce electricity are the same for most types of reactor. (Secondary shutdown systems involve adding other neutron absorbers. The energy released from continuous fission of the atoms of the fuel is harnessed as heat in either a gas or water. usually as a fluid. the energy was not harnessed since these operated in rich uranium orebodies for a couple of million of years. Over 16% of the world's electricity is produced from nuclear energy. moderated by percolating rainwater. In the world's first nuclear reactors about two billion years ago.) . radium or other alpha-emitter. special control rods are used to enable the core to sustain a low level of power efficiently.

(not in BWR) Part of the cooling system where the primary coolant bringing heat from the reactor is used to make steam for the turbine. Usually a robust steel vessel containing the reactor core and moderator/coolant.4 water heavy water water heavy water Canada 44 24. Russia. but it may be a series of tubes holding the fuel and conveying the coolant through the moderator. Reactors may have up to four "loops". China Number GWe Fuel enriched UO2 enriched UO2 Coolant Moderator 265 251. each with a steam generator. Japan. most of the neutrons are released promptly.* In fission. Except in BWRs. Sweden Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor 'CANDU' (PHWR) 94 86. It is typically a metre-thick concrete and steel structure.6 water water Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) US. there is secondary coolant circuit where the steam is made. A liquid or gas circulating through the core so as to transfer the heat from it. Coolant.8 CO2 graphite Light Water Graphite Reactor (RBMK) Russia 12 12. France. The structure around the reactor core which is designed to protect it from outside intrusion and to protect those outside from the effects of radiation in case of any malfunction inside. Japan. These are crucial in enabling a chain reacting system (or reactor) to be controllable and to be able to be held precisely critical.3 water graphite . Containment. (see also later section on primary coolant characteristics) Pressure vessel or pressure tubes. Steam generator. Nuclear power plants in commercial operation Reactor type Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) Main Countries US. enriched UO2 enriched UO2 Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR & Magnox) UK 18 10. . but some are delayed. There are several different types of reactors as indicated in the following Table. In light water reactors the water moderator functions also as primary coolant.3 natural UO2 natural U (metal).

* Numerous rods form a fuel assembly. Natural uranium has the same elemental composition as when it was mined (0. If graphite or heavy water is used as moderator. Fuelling a nuclear power reactor Most reactors need to be shut down for refuelling. Because the light water absorbs neutrons as well as slowing them.2% U-238). The CANDU and RBMK types have pressure tubes (rather than a pressure vessel enclosing the reactor core) and can be refuelled under load by disconnecting individual pressure tubes. corrosion-resistant and permeable to neutrons.7% U-235. iron. and Pu-239 ends up providing about one third of the energy from the fuel.5 cm long) are typically arranged in a long zirconium alloy (zircaloy) tube to form a fuel rod. when a quarter to a third of the fuel assemblies are replaced with fresh ones. During operation. so that the pressure vessel can be opened up.5.05 386. The fuel pellets (usually about 1 cm diameter and 1. enriched uranium has had the proportion of the fissile isotope (U-235) increased by a process called enrichment. Russia Number GWe Fuel 2 1. where it finds its main use. In the most common reactors these are about 3. It is normally contaminated with hafnium. . which is about 98% Zr plus tin. it is possible to run a power reactor on natural instead of enriched uranium. chromium and sometimes nickel to enhance its strength.5 .Reactor type Fast Neutron Reactor (FBR) Main Countries Japan. In most reactors the fuel is ceramic uranium oxide (UO2 with a melting point of 2800°C) and most is enriched. a neutron absorber. In this case refuelling is at intervals of 1-2 years. which is an open lattice and can be lifted into and out of the reactor core. it is less efficient as a moderator than heavy water or graphite.5 to 4 metres long. *Zirconium is an important mineral for nuclear power. In this case the moderator can be ordinary water.0%. over 99. the zirconium being hard. and such reactors are collectively called light water reactors.0 PuO2 and UO2 enriched UO2 Coolant liquid sodium water Moderator none Other TOTAL Russia 4 439 0. so very pure 'nuclear grade' Zr is used to make the zircaloy. commonly to 3.5 graphite GWe = capacity in thousands of megawatts (gross) Source: Nuclear Engineering International Handbook 2010 For reactors under construction: see paper Plans for New Reactors Worldwide. some of the U-238 is changed to plutonium. It is therefore subject to controls on trading.

These are neutron absorbers which decay under neutron exposure. is used. warmer means less).* * footnote: This (as also actual gross MWe) varies slightly from summer to winter. The best known is gadolinium. The power rating of a nuclear power reactor Nuclear power plant reactor power outputs are quoted in three ways: Thermal MWt. or an average figure. If the summer figure is quoted plants may show a capacity factor greater than 100% in cooler times. so normally the lower summer figure. such as powering the main large feed-water pumps with electric motors (as in EPR) rather than steam turbines (taking steam before it gets to the main turbine-generator). Gross electrical MWe indicates the power produced by the attached steam turbine and generator. which depends on the design of the actual nuclear reactor itself. and also takes into account the ambient temperature for the condenser circuit (cooler means more electric power. Rated gross power assumes certain conditions with both. Net electrical MWe. which is a vital ingredient of fuel in naval reactors where installing fresh fuel is very inconvenient. Some design options.) and the rest of the plant. and relates to the quantity and quality of the steam it produces.Burnable poisons are often used (especially in BWR) in fuel or coolant to even out the performance of the reactor over time from fresh fuel being loaded to refuelling. The EPR has a relatively large drop from gross to net MWe for this reason. . after deducting the electrical power needed to run the reactor (cooling and feed-water pumps. explains some gross to net differences between different reactor types. which is the power available to be sent out from the plant to the grid. etc. so reactors are designed to run more than a decade between refuellings. compensating for the progressive build up of neutron absorbers in the fuel as it is burned.

Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) This is the most common type. This is a little lower. and gross MWe for those under construction or planned/proposed. . PWRs use ordinary water as both coolant and moderator. and a secondary circuit in which steam is generated to drive the turbine.The relationship between these is expressed in two ways: y y Thermal efficiency %. This relates to the difference in temperature between the steam from the reactor and the cooling water. In Russia these are known as VVER types . The design is distinguished by having a primary cooling circuit which flows through the core of the reactor under very high pressure. It is often 33-37%. Net efficiency %. the ratio of gross MWe to thermal MW. In WNA papers and figures and WNN items. generally net MWe is used for operating plants. and allows for plant usage. with over 230 in use for power generation and several hundred more employed for naval propulsion. The design of PWRs originated as a submarine power plant.water-moderated and -cooled. the ratio of net MWe achieved to thermal MW.

A PWR has fuel assemblies of 200-300 rods each. The secondary circuit is under less pressure and the water here boils in the heat exchangers which are thus steam generators. Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) This design has many similarities to the PWR. and is then condensed and returned to the heat exchangers in contact with the primary circuit. except that there is only a single circuit in which the water is at lower pressure (about 75 times atmospheric pressure) so that it boils in the core at about 285°C. and a large reactor would have about 150-250 fuel assemblies with 80-100 tonnes of uranium. which are thus part of the reactor circuit. arranged vertically in the core. The steam drives the turbine to produce electricity. Pressure is maintained by steam in a pressuriser (see diagram). This negative feedback effect is one of the safety features of the type. hence it must be kept under about 150 times atmospheric pressure to prevent it boiling. The reactor is designed to operate with 12-15% of the water in the top part of the core as steam. BWR units can operate in load-following mode more readily then PWRs. Since the water around the core of a reactor is always contaminated with traces of radionuclides. The secondary shutdown system involves adding boron to the primary circuit. Water in the reactor core reaches about 325°C. In the primary cooling circuit the water is also the moderator. The cost of this tends to balance the . and hence with less moderating effect and thus efficiency there. it means that the turbine must be shielded and radiological protection provided during maintenance. The steam passes through drier plates (steam separators) above the core and then directly to the turbines. and if any of it turned to steam the fission reaction would slow down.

in this case heavy water (D2O). penetrated by several hundred horizontal pressure tubes which form channels for the fuel. cooled by a flow of heavy water under high pressure in the primary cooling circuit.** ** with the CANDU system. by isolating individual pressure tubes from the cooling circuit. . holding up to 140 tonnes of uranium. so the turbine hall can be entered soon after the reactor is shut down. It uses natural uranium (0. The pressure tube design means that the reactor can be refuelled progressively without shutting down. * mostly N-16. and there are up to 750 assemblies in a reactor core. and more recently also in India. the moderator is enriched (ie water) rather than the fuel. the primary coolant generates steam in a secondary circuit to drive the turbines.7% U-235) oxide as fuel. As in the PWR. with a 7 second half-life A BWR fuel assembly comprises 90-100 fuel rods. Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor (PHWR or CANDU) The PHWR reactor design has been developed since the 1950s in Canada as the CANDU. The moderator is in a large tank called a calandria. Most of the radioactivity in the water is very short-lived*. .savings due to the simpler design. hence needs a more efficient moderator. reaching 290°C.a cost trade-off. The secondary control system involves restricting water flow through the core so that more steam in the top part reduces moderation.

5-3. Control rods penetrate the moderator and a secondary shutdown system involves injecting nitrogen to the coolant. CANDU reactors can readily be run on recycled uranium from reprocessing LWR used fuel. using graphite moderator and carbon dioxide as coolant. The fuel is uranium oxide pellets.5%. or a blend of this and depleted uranium left over from enrichment plants. Control rods penetrate the calandria vertically. The carbon dioxide circulates through the core. with 12 bundles lying end to end in a fuel channel. Newer PHWR designs such as the Advanced Candu Reactor (ACR) have light water cooling and slightly-enriched fuel.A CANDU fuel assembly consists of a bundle of 37 half metre long fuel rods (ceramic fuel pellets in zircaloy tubes) plus a support structure. but still inside the concrete and steel pressure vessel. and a secondary shutdown system involves adding gadolinium to the moderator. Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) These are the second generation of British gas-cooled reactors. . The heavy water moderator circulating through the body of the calandria vessel also yields some heat (though this circuit is not shown on the diagram above). enriched to 2. with addition of depleted uranium. reaching 650°C and then past steam generator tubes outside it. About 4000 MWe of PWR can then fuel 1000 MWe of CANDU capacity. in stainless steel tubes.

They typically use enriched uranium fuel and are mostly cooled and moderated by water. Many will be fast neutron reactors. much as in a BWR.5 metres long. which is allowed to boil in the core at 290°C. probably later. also graphite moderated and CO2 cooled. Generation III are the Advanced Reactors. Advanced reactors Several generations of reactors are commonly distinguished. which is why they have never been built outside the Soviet Union. the first few of which are in operation in Japan and others are under construction and ready to be ordered. Generation I reactors were developed in 1950-60s and very few are still running today. It employs long (7 metre) vertical pressure tubes running through graphite moderator. Generation II reactors are typified by the present US fleet and most in operation elsewhere. so that fission products are the only high-level waste.The AGR was developed from the Magnox reactor. With moderation largely due to the fixed graphite. developed from plutonium production reactors. They mostly used natural uranium fuel and used graphite as moderator. They are developments of the second generation with enhanced safety. Light water graphite-moderated reactor (RBMK) This is a Soviet design. and two of these are still operating in UK. Secondary coolant is water. Fuel is low-enriched uranium oxide made up into fuel assemblies 3. excess boiling simply reduces the cooling and neutron absorbtion without inhibiting the fission reaction. They will tend to have closed fuel cycles and burn the long-lived actinides now forming part of spent fuel. Generation IV designs are still on the drawing board and will not be operational before 2020 at the earliest. and is cooled by water. and a positive feedback problem can arise. They use natural uranium fuel in metal form. .

More than a dozen (Generation III) advanced reactor designs are in various stages of development. Generation 1-3 reactors recycle plutonium (and possibly uranium). BWR and CANDU designs above. they are expensive to build. Here a 150 MWt unit produces 35 MWe (gross) as well as up to 35 MW of heat for desalination or district heating. to ensure sustainable electricity and heat supplies to the naval base there from 2013. which will be permanently moored where it is needed to supply power and possibly some desalination to a shore settlement or industrial complex. with on-board refuelling capability and used fuel storage. As a cogeneration plant it is rated at 200 MWe and 1900 GJ/hr. These are designed to run 3-4 years between refuelling and it is envisaged that they will be operated in pairs to allow for outages. The former include the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor. Kamchatka peninsula.000 tonnes. See also Fast Neutron Reactors and Small Reactors papers. using helium as coolant. on barges.000 tonne barge. The second plant of this size is planned for Pevek on the Chukotka peninsula in the Chaun district of the far northeast. at very high temperature. A larger Russian factory-built and barge-mounted reactor is the VBER-150. of 350 MW thermal. Lifetime of nuclear reactors. Two units will be mounted on a 21. These will be mounted in pairs on a large barge. The first has two 40 MWe reactors based on those in icebreakers and will operate at Vilyuchinsk. 110 MWe. before being returned to service. while Generation IV are expected to have full actinide recycle. Some are evolutionary from the PWR. generating power from plutonium while making more of it from the U-238 isotope in or around the fuel. While they get more than 60 times as much energy from the original uranium compared with the normal reactors. and the main designs expected to be built in two decades are FNRs. If they are configure to produce more fissile material (plutonium) than they consume they are called Fast Breeder Reactors (FBR). some are more radical departures. near Bilibino. Floating nuclear power plants Apart from over 200 nuclear reactors powering various kinds of ships. Fast neutron reactors (FNR) Some reactors (only one in commercial service) do not have a moderator and utilise fast neutrons. . displacing 49. Considering the closed fuel cycle. Rosatom in Russia has set up a subsidiary to supply floating nuclear power plants ranging in size from 70 to 600 MWe. to drive a turbine directly. originally envisaged in pairs as a floating nuclear power plant. The larger VBER-300 PWR is a 325 MWe unit. Further development of them is likely in the next decade. At the end of a 12-year operating cycle the whole plant is taken to a central facility for 2-year overhaul and removal of used fuel. a few of which are now operating with others under construction. The best-known radical new design is the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. for remote area power supply. The Russian KLT-40S is a reactor well proven in icebreakers and now proposed for wider use in desalination and. Electricity cost is expected to be much lower than from present alternatives.

since they are expensive to build but cheap to run. and in several countries there are active programs to extend operating lives. there is considerable scope for running a fleet of reactors in load-following mode. See also section on Ageing. See further information in the Nuclear Power in France paper. and in this respect they are similar to most coal-fired plants. A second issue is that of obsolescence. In Candu reactors. The ability of a PWR to run at less than full power for much of the time depends on whether it is in the early part of its 18 to 24-month refueling cycle or late in it. Also. older reactors have analogue instrument and control systems. Some components simply wear out. in Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors paper. While BWRs can be made to follow loads reasonably easily without burning the core unevenly. including building in extra performance margins. corrode or degrade to a low level of efficiency. and whether it is designed with special control rods which diminish power levels throughout the core without shutting it down. Thirdly. for instance in France. pressure tube replacement has been undertaken on some plants after about 30 years operation. with major investments in systems. This is essentially an economic decision. though the ability on any individual PWR reactor to run on a sustained basis at low power decreases markedly as it progresses through the refueling cycle. investment is needed to maintain reliability and safety. This justifies significant capital expenditure in upgrading systems and components. this is not as readily achieved in a PWR.) However. (It is also uneconomic to run them at less than full capacity. Load-following capacity Nuclear power plants are essentially base-load generators. However. There is a wide variety . These need to be replaced. water. Primary coolants The advent of some of the designs mentioned above provides opportunity to review the various primary coolants used in nuclear reactors.Most of today's nuclear plants which were originally designed for 30 or 40-year operating lives. For instance. particularly with heat and neutron irradiation. light metal. in some situations it is necessary to vary the output according to daily and weekly load cycles on a regular basis. and many have been replaced after about 30 years where the reactor otherwise has the prospect of running for 60 years. running continuously. the properties of materials may degrade with age.gas. In the USA most of the more than one hundred reactors are expected to be granted licence extensions from 40 to 60 years. heavy . This is because their power output cannot readily be ramped up and down on a daily and weekly basis. Lesser components are more straightforward to replace as they age. where there is a very high reliance on nuclear power. periodic safety reviews are undertaken on older plants in line with international safety conventions and principles to ensure that safety margins are maintained. In respect to all these aspects. structures and components lives can be extended. Steam generators are the most prominent and expensive of these. Thus.

so despite the need to keep it dry the engineering required to contain it is relatively modest. The development of nuclear power based on Pb-Bi cooled fast neutron reactors is likely to be limited to a total of 50-100 GWe. It is denser than helium and thus likely to give better thermal conversion efficiency. using oxide dispersion-strengthened steels. and US interest in using Pb or Pb-Bi for small reactors has increased subsequently. and in future 700°C is in sight. including using helium in a secondary Brayton cycle with thermal efficiencies of 48% at 750°C to 59% at 1000°C. However. so allows several options for use of the heat. Helium must be used at similar pressure (1000-2000 psi. there are engineering implications. as in present reactors. but it can be used in the Brayton cycle to drive a turbine directly. with a good margin between operating and boiling temperatures. basically for small reactors in remote places. The Hyperion reactor will use lead-bismuth eutectic which is 45% Pb. A problem is that Pb-Bi yields toxic polonium (Po-210) activation products. Molten fluoride salt boils at 1400°C at atmospheric pressure. Carbon dioxide was used in early British reactors and their AGRs. Again. Also. 7-15 MPa) to enable it to function above 100°C. There is now interest in supercritical CO2 for the Brayton cycle. though freezing must be prevented. However. which originally limited temperatures to 550°C. Sodium. They are transparent to neutrons. They do not burn when exposed to air. melts at 98°C and boils at 883°C at atmospheric pressure. . aiding efficiency. With today's materials 650°C can be reached.metal and salt: Water or heavy water must be maintained at very high pressure (1000-2200 psi. supercritical water around 25 MPa can give 45% thermal efficiency . However. Pb-Bi melts at a relatively low 125°C (hence eutectic) and boils at 1670°C. hence is envisaged for large-scale use in the future. 55% Bi. passive cooling for decay heat is readily achieved. or manufacture of hydrogen. This has a major influence on reactor engineering. since the temperature drop in heat exchangers is less than with gas coolants. as normally used in fast neutron reactors. Low-pressure liquid coolants allow all their heat to be delivered at high temperatures. normally water/steam is used in the secondary circuit to drive a turbine (Rankine cycle) at lower thermal efficiency than the Brayton at some fossil-fuel power plants today with outlet temperatures of 600°C. and since they do not react with water the heat exchanger interface is safer. In 1998 Russia declassified a lot of research information derived from its experience with submarine reactors. Lead or lead-bismuth eutectic in fast neutron reactors are capable of higher temperature operation. and at ultra supercritical levels (30+ MPa) 50% may be attained. Pb melts at 327°C and boils at 1737°C but is very much more abundant and cheaper to produce than bismuth. they are corrosive of fuel cladding and steels. 7-14 MPa) to maintain sufficient density for efficient operation.

When the fission process stops. Nuclear reactors for process heat Producing steam to drive a turbine and generator is relatively easy. this is about 6% of the full power level. and 950°C for a high temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTR). See also paper on Cooling Power Plants. Typically some kind of convection flow is relied upon. Primitive reactors . beyond heat transfer to do work. but it quickly drops to about 1% as the short-lived fission products decay. though employing an LWR would not be practical or economic. and a light water reactor running at 350°C does this readily.The removal of passive decay heat is a vital feature of primary cooling systems. This heat could melt the core of a light water reactor unless it is reliably dissipated. A 2010 US Department of Energy document quotes 500°C for a liquid metal cooled reactor (FNR). At the moment of shutdown. The DOE said that high reactor outlet temperatures in the range 750 to 950°C were required to satisfy all end user requirements evaluated to date for the Next Generation Nuclear Plant. 860°C for a molten salt reactor (MSR). As the above section and Figure show. fission product decay continues and a substantial amount of heat is added to the core. other types of reactor are required for higher temperatures. Lower-temperature reactors can be used with supplemental gas heating to reach higher temperatures.

The world's oldest known nuclear reactors operated at what is now Oklo in Gabon.) These natural chain reactions. A heavy element located in the Actinide series it has 92 protons as indicated by its atomic number. started spontaneously by the presence of water acting as a moderator.235 the reaction is summarized: 1 0n + 235 92U ---> 9236Kr + 14156 Ba +200 MeV+ 3 1 0n . About 2 billion years ago. Arsenic and Aluminum are important elements of solar electricity. If the reaction releases energy it is said to be endothermic. (U-235 decays much faster than U-238. different configurations of protons and neutrons in its nucleus. continued for about 2 million years before finally dying away. at least 17 natural nuclear reactors achieved criticality in a rich deposit of uranium ore. As Silicon. Hydrogen and Oxygen. Nitrogen. At that time the concentration of U-235 in all natural uranium was 3. All of the chemical equations of this page are listed at the linked page.7 percent as at present. Not all of its isotopes are stable. For the decomposition of Uranium . Each operated at about 20 kW thermal. Phosphorus. Uranium plays a very important role in the production of energy through nuclear power. The initial radioactive products have long since decayed into stable elements but close study of the amount and location of these has shown that there was little movement of radioactive wastes during and after the nuclear reactions.4 tonnes of fission products as well as 1. A special page reviews the basic forms of many chemical reactions and gives examples of them. During this long reaction period about 5. and play crucial roles in nuclear power. Uranium.5 tonnes of plutonium together with other transuranic elements were generated in the orebody. Uranium has many different isotopes. For a indepth lesson on isotopes see the link's page. In a decomposition reaction the first element breaks down and releases components of itself. West Africa. The process of converting uranium to energy involves many decomposition reactions. Reactions that need energy to occur are called exothermic reactions. because energy comes from outside. many elements play an important part of energy conversion and production. Plutonium and the other transuranics remained immobile Chemistry & Nuclear Power What are the most important elements to humans? Other than the basic organic elements of Carbon. Many other chemical equations occur within nuclear power. the Biproducts are neutrons and energy measured in the unit of Joules. Boron.7 percent instead of 0. Decomposition reactions follow this general form: Element A ---> Element B + Biproducts For the nuclear reaction process. Look at Uranium on the periodic table. Plutonium. whose half-life is about the same as the age of the Earth.

equivalent approximately to <value>.The leftover neutrons of the reaction come from the nucleus of the Uranium. This nuclear reaction is called the fission process . but indirectly to heat a liquid such as water to a gas. a relatively common material. These neutrons are either absorbed by system controlling fuel rods or are used to continue the uranium decomposition reaction. A process where the products of one reaction become reactants for the next reaction is called a chain reaction. The following equation summarizes this relationship: equation of Power porport to 1/ Fuel rods# The energy given off is 200 MeV. The uranium atom is split into two and as this happens energy is released in the form of radiation and heat. The number of these rods is changed periodically to increase or decrease power production as needed. Energy is released from uranium when an atom is split by a neutron. Thermal energy is the technical term applied to the energy given off from the nuclear decomposition reaction NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION Nuclear Power Stations use a fuel called uranium. This energy will not be used directly. and less energy is produced. More nuclear fuel rods means that the reaction is slowed down.

If more heat is required the rods are raised further out of the water and if less is needed they lower further into it.In a nuclear power station the uranium is first formed into pellets and then into long rods. When they are removed from the water a nuclear reaction takes place causing heat. The uranium rods are kept cool by submerging them in water. The amount of heat required is controlled by raising and lowering the rods. .

especially the health of young children. Old vessels can leak radiation if they are not maintained properly or if they are dismantled carelessly at the end of their working lives. Some of the waste remains radioactive (dangerous) for thousands of years and is currently stored in places such as deep caves and mines. Nuclear powered ships and submarines pose a danger to marine life and the environment. Radiation was even detected over a thousand miles away in the UK as a result of the Chernobyl accident. . There are serious questions to be answered regarding the storage of radioactive waste produced through the use of nuclear power. Nuclear power is a controversial method of producing electricity. 2. 5. 3. There have been serious accidents with a small number of nuclear power stations. 4. 6. The accident at Chernobyl (Ukraine) in 1986. Storing and monitoring the radioactive waste material for thousands of years has a high cost. In the preceding years another 200. It has been suggested that over time 2500 people died as a result of the accident. ADVANTAGES: 1.000 people being evacuated. Many people living near to nuclear power stations or waste storage depots are concerned about nuclear accidents and radioactive leaks. 7.GENERAL ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR POWER GENERATION DISADVANTAGES: 1. led to 30 people being killed and over 100. The amount of electricity produced in a nuclear power station is equivalent to that produced by a fossil fuelled power station. Some fear that living in these areas can damage their health. Many Governments fear that unstable countries that develop nuclear power may also develop nuclear weapons and even use them. Many people and environmental organisations are very concerned about the radioactive fuel it needs.00 people were resettled away from the radioactive area.

The heat is carried out of the reactor by coolant. In a world that faces global warming they suggest that increasing the use of nuclear power is the only way of protecting the environment and preventing catastrophic climate change. it releases large amounts of energy in the form of heat. is placed into the reactor vessel (basically a large tank) along with a small neutron source. a politically unstable part of the world. made up of heavy atoms that split when they absorb neutrons. 6. 3. On this page: y y y y Components of nuclear reactors Animated reactor system The nuclear core Types of nuclear reactors . Nuclear reactors can be manufactured small enough to power ships and submarines. Many supporters of nuclear power production say that this type of power is environmentally friendly and clean. Each time an atom splits. Many developed countries such as the USA and the UK no longer want to rely on oil and gas imported from the Middle East.proving that nuclear power is an economic alternative to fossil fuel power stations. 5. and for conducting research. polluting gases. Nuclear power stations do not burn fossil fuels to produce electricity and consequently they do not produce damaging. Fuel. 4. the number of oil burning vessels would be reduced and consequently pollution.2. If this was extended beyond military vessels. So basically. The coolant heats up and goes off to a turbine to spin a generator or drive shaft. The neutrons start a chain reaction where each atom that splits releases more neutrons that cause other atoms to split. Nuclear Reactors What is a nuclear reactor? A nuclear reactor is a system that contains and controls sustained nuclear chain reactions. producing medical isotopes for imaging and cancer treatment. Reactors are used for generating electricity. moving aircraft carriers and submarines. Countries such as France produce approximately 90 percent of their electricity from nuclear power and lead the world in nuclear power generating technology . which is most commonly just plain water. nuclear reactors are exotic heat sources.

In the US fleet of power reactors. . The turbine transfers the heat from the coolant to electricity. transferring the heat from the fuel to a turbine. or something else. liquid sodium. and structural materials. helium. heavy-water. The coolant is the material that passes through the core. It could be water. It contains low-enriched uranium (<5% U-235). The core can contain hundreds of thousands of individual fuel pins. water is the standard. control systems. just like in a fossil-fuel plant.Components of nuclear reactors The control room Main components y y y The core of the reactor contains all of the nuclear fuel and generates all of the heat.

The water coming into the condenser and then going right back out would be water from a river. this water does not go near the radioactivity. Animated reactor system This image (reproduced from the NRC) shows a nuclear reactor heating up water and spinning a generator to produce electricity. steel-reinforced concrete. Cooling towers are needed by some plants to dump the excess heat that cannot be converted to energy due to the laws of thermodynamics. These are the hyperbolic icons of nuclear energy. or ocean. It captures the essence of the sytem well. lake. As you can see. They emit only clean water vapor. The nuclear core Fuel pins . Chernobyl did not have a containment to speak of. made of high-density. which is in the reactor vessel. It goes out the cooling towers. These are usually dome-shaped.y y The containment is the structure that separates the reactor from the environment.

Fuel assembly .The smallest unit of the reactor is the fuel pin. They are surrounded by a zirconium clad to keep fission products from escaping into the coolant. These are typically uranium-oxide (UO2).

Fuel is put in and taken out of the reactor in assemblies. Full core This is a full core.Fuel assemblies are bundles of fuel pins. Click here to see a 3-D blowup diagram of an assembly. so that there¶s room for coolant. The assemblies have some structural material to keep the pins close but not touching. Various fuel assemblies around the core have different fuel in them. They vary in . Some assemblies are control assemblies. made up of several hundred assemblies.

making maintenance easy.the PWR uses regular old water as a coolant. add to the list by posting in the forum! Pressurized Water Reactor The most common type of reactor -. Here¶s an incomplete list of them. fuel cycles. transferring heat to a secondary coolant loop. The assemblies may also vary with height. a fact that leads to the neutrons moving around at higher speeds (hence fast). Pros: y y Strong negative void coefficient -. As the name implies. plutonium.susceptible to "uranium shortage" Sodium Cooled Fast Reactor The first electricity-producing nuclear reactor in the world was SFR (the EBR-1 in Arco. The primary cooling water is kept at very high pressure so it does not boil. with different enrichments at the top of the core from those at the bottom. among other parameters. coolants. uranium. effectively eliminating any concerns about uranium shortages (see what is a fast reactor?) .reactor cools down if water starts bubbling Secondary loop keeps radioactive stuff away from turbines. Sodium is heavier than hydrogen. higher actinides). purposes. Can t breed new fuel -. Cons: y y Pressurized coolant escapes rapidly if a pipe breaks. Types of nuclear reactors There are very many different types of nuclear reactors with different fuels. Please. These use oxide fuel pellets stacked in zirconium tubes. Idaho). necessitating lots of back-up cooling systems.enrichment and age. Pros: y Can breed its own fuel. It goes through a heat exchanger. these reactors are cooled by liquid sodium metal. and burn anything you throw at them (thorium. These can use metal or oxide fuel. They could possibly burn thorium or plutonium fuel as well. which then spins the turbine.

No cladding means less neutron-absorbing material in the core. and can be handled. as they are in typical reactors. The operator could easily divert Pa-233 to provide a small stream of nearly pure weapons-grade U-233. To fully burn waste.the reactor will shut itself down without any backup-systems working (or people around).) but are a major setback for these nice reactors. natural circulation. which leads to better neutron efficiency and thus higher fuel utilization Liquid fuel also means that structural dose does not limit the life of the fuel. This is a safety concern. They are unique so far in that they use molten fuel." Thus. This necessitates things like triple-redundant containments. So there's no worry of meltdown because they¶re already melted.y y Can burn its own waste Metallic fuel and excellent thermal properties of sodium allow for passively safe operation -. Positive void coefficients are inherent to all fast reactors. Alvin Weinberg explains how this was done at Oak Ridge National Lab: "It was a remarkable feat! In only 4 days all of the 218 kg of uranium in the reactor were separated from the intensely radioactive fission products and its radioactivity reduced five billion-fold.). the entire uranium inventory can be separated without much effort. etc. all the fission gases can release instead of just the gases from one tiny pin. Thus. These can be engineered around (by making a pool and eliminating pipes. etc. In his autobiography. Also. The folks over at Energy from thorium are totally stoked about this technology. but is certainly a challenge and disadvantage. these require reprocessing facilities which can also be used for nuclear proliferation. only relying on physics (gravity. Pros: y y y y Can constantly breed new fuel. eliminating the need to shut down during refueling. leaks in the pipes results in sodium fires. Cons: y y Radioactive gaseous fission products are not contained in small pins. etc. All liquid fuel reactors have this problem. So if there is a containment breach. water. Cons: y y y Sodium coolant is explosively reactive with air. allowing the reactor to extract very much energy out of the loaded fuel. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor LFTRs have gotten a lot of attention lately in the media. . eliminating concerns over energy resources Can be maintained online with chemical fission product removal. The presence of an online reprocessing facility with incoming pre-melted fuel is a proliferation concern. anyone who operates this kind of reactor will have easy access to bomb material.

Residents should be familiar with these emergency information materials. Radioactive materials are composed of atoms that are unstable. What Is Radiation? Radiation is any form of energy propagated as rays. etc. Federal law establishes the criterion for determining the adequacy of offsite planning and preparedness. and an ingestion planning zone within a radius of 50 miles from the plant. These plans are tested through exercises that include protective actions for schools and nursing homes. with support from the Federal government and utilities. usually characterized by a plume (cloud-like) formation. the phone book. this prompt Alert and Notification System will be . State and local governments. each utility that owns a commercial nuclear power plant in the United States has been required to have both an onsite and offsite emergency response plan as a condition of obtaining and maintaining a license to operate that plant Onsite emergency response plans are approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). The process by which an atom changes from an unstable state to a more stable state by emitting radiation is called radioactive decay or radioactivity. These materials contain educational information on radiation. the greater the risk." Although construction and operation of nuclear power plants are closely monitored and regulated by the NRC.Nuclear Power Plant Emergency Information & Safety Tips FACT SHEET: NUCLEAR POWER PLANT EMERGENCY Since 1980. The area the radioactive release may affect is determined by the amount released from the plant. it is easily detected by scientists with sophisticated instruments that can detect even the smallest levels of radiation. utility bills. etc. reception centers for those seeking radiological monitoring and location of congregate care centers for temporary lodging. The plans also delineate evacuation routes. snow. An unstable atom gives off its excess energy until it becomes stable.). If needed. Radiological emergency plans call for a prompt Alert and Notification system. The energy emitted is radiation. calendars. develop plans that include a plume emergency planning zone with a radius of 10 miles from the plant. contacts for additional information. This exposure could come from the release of radioactive material from the plant into the environment. Although radiation cannot be detected by the senses (sight. an accident. Even the human body itself emits radiation. etc. If a release of radiation occurs.) which would quickly drive the radioactive material to the ground. household appliances (like television sets and microwave ovens). Residents within the 10-mile emergency planning zone are regularly disseminated emergency information materials (via brochures. Offsite plans (which are closely coordinated with the utility's onsite emergency response plan) are evaluated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and provided to the NRC. The potential danger from an accident at a nuclear power plant is exposure to radiation. waves or energetic particles that travel through the air or a material medium. (A rem is a unit of radiation exposure. and medical and dental x-rays. radioactive elements in the soil and rocks. special arrangements for the handicapped. to determine the potential danger in order to protect the public. and the utility. hence causing increased deposition of radionuclides. Preparing For An Emergency Federal.e: "Plans and preparedness must be determined to adequately protect the public health and safety by providing reasonabl assurance that appropriate measures can be taken offsite in the event of a radiological emergency. State and local officials work together to develop site-specific emergency response plans for nuclear power plant accidents. though unlikely is possible. who must consider the FEMA findings when issuing or maintaining a license. etc. People receive some natural or background radiation exposure each day from the sun. smell. These levels of natural and background radiation is normal. The average American receives 360 millirems of radiation each year 300 from natural sources and 60 from man-made activities. i. can be dangerous because of the harmful effects of certain types of radiation on the body. The longer a person is exposed to radiation and the closer the person is to the radiation.). the levels of radioactivity will be monitored by authorities from Federal and State governments. instructions for evacuation and sheltering.) Radioactive materials--if handled improperly--or radiation accidentally released into the environment. wind direction and speed and weather conditions (i. rain.e.

etc. but is not expected to exceed Environmental Protection Agency Protective Action Guidelines (PAGs) beyond the site boundary. but no action by the public is necessary. but emergency officials are notified. If such an event occurs. etc. other sources of outside air. Emergency Classification Levels Preparedness for commercial nuclear power plants includes a system for notifying the public if a problem occurs at a plant. The event poses no threat to you or to plant employees. Do not call 911. Emergency agencies are notified and kept informed. fans and furnace Close fireplace dampers Go to the basement or other underground area Stay inside until authorities say it is safe When Coming In From Outdoors Shower and change . doors. or both. Adequate assistance will be provided during an emergency. and furnace Close fire place dampers Take a few items with you. Keep car windows and air vents closed and listen to an EAS radio station. Special plans must be made to assist and care for persons who are medically disabled or handicapped. Public transportation should be available for those who have not made arrangements. This system uses either sirens.activated quickly to inform the public of any potential threat from natural or man-made events. or a combination to notify the public to tune their radios or television to an Emergency Alert System (EAS) station. NOAA weather radio. If you or someone you know lives within ten miles of a nuclear facility. If You Are Alerted Remember that hearing a siren or tone alert radio does not mean you should evacuate. but backup plant systems still work. fans. television stations. if so. vents. No action by the public is necessary. you should listen to your radio. Tune to your local radio or television station for information. chimney dampers. in the utilities' public information brochure. no action by the public is necessary. vents. The alert and notification system will be sounded. television and tone alert radios for site-specific information and instructions. congregate care information will be provided. Thus. flood. Check on your neighbors. When the sirens are sounded. The warning siren could mean a nuclear power plant emergency or the sirens could be used as a warning for tornado. If You Are Advised to Evacuate the Area Stay calm and do not rush Listen to emergency information Close and lock windows and doors Turn off air conditioning. either during the EAS message. tone alert radios. The EAS stations will provide information and emergency instructions for the public to follow. Site Area Emergency is declared when an event involving major problems with the plant's safety systems has progressed to the point that a release of some radioactivity into the air or water is possible. and turn off forced air heating and cooling equipment. radiation could be released that would travel beyond the site boundary. battery operated radio and extra batteries First aid kit and manual Emergency food and water Essential medicines Cash and credit cards Use your own transportation or make arrangements to ride with a neighbor. If you need a place to stay. tune to your local EAS station which includes radio stations. Special rumor control numbers and information will be provided to the public for a nuclear power plant emergency. State and local authorities will take action to protect the residents living near the plant. The emergency classification level of the problem is defined by these four categories: Notification of Unusual Event is the least serious of the four levels. In the most serious case. in some situations. please notify and register with your local emergency management agency. to close all windows. In a nuclear power plant emergency. evacuations will be recommended based on particular plant conditions rather than waiting for the situation to deteriorate and an actual release of radionuclides to occur. Gather personal items you or your family might need: Flash light and extra batteries Portable. Alert is declared when an event has occurred that could reduce the plant's level of safety. Follow the evacuation routes provided. chemical spill. fire. to shelter in place. route alerting (the "Paul Revere" method). and the cable TV system. Close and lock windows and doors Turn off air conditioning. People in the affected areas could be advised to evacuate promptly or. you may be advised to go indoors and. If Advised to remain at Home Bring pets inside. If you are alerted. It means you should promptly turn to an EAS station to determine whether it is only a test or an actual emergency. General Emergency is the most serious of the four classifications and is declared when an event at the plant has caused a loss of safety systems.

Use stored feed and water. the walls in your home or workplace would be sufficient shielding to protect you for a short period of time. What you can do to stay informed: Attend public information meetings. Provide plenty of food and water and make sure shelters are well-ventilated. For Farmers and Home Gardeners If a radiological incident occurs at the nuclear facility. This is why local officials could advise you to remain indoors if an accident occurs. . Following an accident. Learn your community's warning systems. Take care of milk-producing animals. potassium iodide. local government. If a radiological release occurs at a nuclear power plant. elderly people. consideration is given to the safety of the children. If an emergency is declared. Time--Most radioactivity loses its strength fairly quickly. Information on actions you can take to protect crops and livestock is available from your agricultural extension agent. the more heavy. which saturates the thyroid and protects it from the uptake of radioactive iodine. Crops already harvested should be stored inside if possible. school children are relocated prior to the evacuation of the general and shoes Put items worn outdoors in a plastic bag and seal it. The thyroid gland is vulnerable to the uptake of radioactive iodine. the better. States may decide to provide the public with a stable iodine. as a precautionary measure. In some cases. Distance--The more distance between you and the source of the radiation. Wash and peel vegetables and fruits before use if they were not already harvested. and Shielding. local authorities will monitor any release of radiation and determine the level of protective actions and when the threat has passed. and in some cases. especially with respect to young children. Livestock Provide as much shelter as possible. Usually. periodic information concerning the safety of farm and home grown products will be provided. and state. local officials will likely call for an evacuation. industry and federal plans. when possible. In the most serious nuclear power plant accident. pregnant women and the elderly. the less radiation you will receive. You may also want to attend post-exercise meetings that include the media and the public. safety precautions. Such a protective action is at the option of State. nursing homes--anywhere family members might be. Distance. Three Ways to Minimize Radiation Exposure There are three factors that minimize radiation exposure to your body: Time. who can provide information about radioactivity. School Evacuations If an incident involving an actual or potential radiological release occurs. Unharvested crops are hard to protect. and people with disabilities. dense materials between you and the source of the radiation. day care centers. students in the 10-mile emergency planning zone will be relocated to designated facilities in a safe area. thereby increasing the distance between you and the radiation. Limiting the time spent near the source of radiation reduces the amount of radiation exposure you will receive. Learn emergency plans for schools. Ask where nuclear power plants are located. Ask about the hazards radiation may pose to your family. Shielding--Like distance. Remember your neighbors may require special assistance--infants. Contact local emergency management officials. Crops Normal harvesting and processing may still be possible if time permits. local.

each with back-up and design to accommodate human error. thus halting the nuclear reaction as rapidly as possible. etc. For instance at the Darling Nuclear Generation Station in Canada the reactors are enclosed in heavily reinforced concrete which is 1. In modern nuclear power plants. utility bills. In addition. the phone book. However some reactors which cannot use water use sodium or sodium salts. The control rods are very important because the reaction could run out of control if fission events are extremely frequent. etc Safety of Nuclear Power Plants Safety is taken very seriously by those working in nuclear power plants. hence fewer neutrons are able to cause fission and the reactor slows down automatically. contacts for additional information. A vacuum building is . The components include: 1. The most common way to reduce the neutron flux is include neutron-absorbing control rods. as the temperature increases the efficiency of reactions decreases. These provide an interesting perspective on the importance both of a vigilent safety culture and a pro-active regulatory oversight. special arrangements for the handicapped. These control rods can be partially inserted into the reactor core to reduce the reactions. Safety Mechanisms of a Nuclear Power Reactor By regulation. Maintenance of barriers that prevent the release of radiation There is a series of physical barriers between the radioactive core and the environment. 3. Hence if we decrease the neutron flux we decrease the radioactivity.) These materials contain educational information on radiation. the insertion of all the control rods into the reactor core occurs in a few seconds. The main safety concern is the emission of uncontrolled radiation into the environment which could cause harm to humans both at the reactor site and off-site. instructions for evacuation and sheltering.Be familiar with emergency information materials that are regularly disseminated to your home (via brochures. Workers are shielded from radiation via interior concrete walls. Control of Radioactivity This requires being able to control the neutron flux. most reactors are designed so that beyond optimal level. health and safety issues can be found at the Nuclear World Association website. Generally nuclear reactors use water as a coolant. calendars. A summary by the nuclear world association on environmental. Maintenance of Core Cooling In any nuclear reactor some sort of cooling is necessary. 2. Recall that in a nuclear reactor when a neutron is captured by a fuel nucleus (generally uranium) the nucleus splits releasing radioactive particles (or undergoes fission). the design of the nuclear reactor must include provisions for human (operator) error and equipment failure. The Union of Concerned Scientists has an extensive website devoted to the detailed safety issues faced by American Nuclear Power Industry. Nuclear Plants in the western world use a "Defense in Depth" concept which is a system with multiple safety components.8m thick.

monitoring of instrumentation and the prevention of a failure of one type of equipment affecting any other. most of which are lethal to humans. meltdown).Several products are produced by nuclear reactions. Further. absorb neutrons. In the U. with the science of nuclear fusion emerging. The vacuum building is a 71m high concrete structure and is kept at negative atmospheric pressure. The design of the reactor also includes multiple back-up components. D2O (deuterium oxide--heavy water). Control rods . until the level of radioactivity has dropped to suitable levels. independent systems (two or more systems performing the same function in parallel). Inside the reactor several layers of concrete and steel must be laid to prevent radiation from . y y y y The handling of equipment via remote in the core of the reactor Physical shielding Limit on the time a worker spends in areas with significant radiation levels Monitoring of individual doses and of the work environment Nuclear Reactors Current nuclear power plants are powered by nuclear fission. Any isotope present in critical mass will do. Shielding/Containment . Moderators . If neutrons were permitted to continue uninhibited a chain-reaction would occur causing a meltdown of the facility.S. The key parts to a nuclear power plant (fission) reactor are: y y y y Fuel rods . regulation requires that a core-meltdown incident must be confined only to the plant itself without the need to evacuate nearby residence. Neutrons are absorbed so as to prevent the reaction from going at an unsafe rate (i. The storage and disposal of these materials is an enormous task. normally composed of 10B or Cd.Control rods. Safety is also important for the workers of nuclear power plants.e.It is job the of the moderator to slow down neutrons without absorbing them. Should the facilities where the materials are being held be com promised. and graphi te are common moderators. This means that if any radiation were to leak from the reactor it would be sucked into the vacuum building and therefore prevented from being released into the environment. Moderators must slow down neutrons without absorbing or reacting with them. pellets are placed in a Zirconium alloyed tube where they are lowered into its core. U3O 8. enriched tri-uranium oct-oxide.Fuel rods are usually composed of fissionable isotopes such as 235U. 233U and 239Pu. H2O. Radiation doses are controlled via the following procedures.connected to the reactor buildings by a pressure relief duct. that area must be sealed for hundreds to millions of years.

The reaction. which powers a turbine. What is a meltdown? If the core gets too hot. reducing the likelihood of breaching the containment structure. as well as keeping the reactor cool enough to prevent a meltdown. that set off a controlled nuclear reaction.. the fuel pellets themselves can melt and fall to the reactor floor. only some of the fuel or the reactor core melts. along with continued rescue efforts in the wake of last week's earthquake. . where the hot.The job of the coolant is to carry the heat from the reactor to a steam turbine system where it is converted to electricity. Coolant . How Nuclear Reactors Work . WSJ's Yukimo Ono reports from Tokyo on a third explosion at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. radioactive material may be able to eat through protective barriers and ultimately reach the surrounding environment. generating electricity. the fuel rods can crack and release radioactive gases. In the worst case. The steel mus t be replaced periodically be cause exposure to radiation causes it to warp. such as uranium. In a partial meltdown. And the Dangers When They Don't How does a nuclear reactor work? The core of a nuclear reactor contains both water and fuel rods made of zirconium and pellets of nuclear fuel. heats the water. creating 550-degree Fahrenheit steam..y escaping.

Emergency batteries provided some power. though. Dieselpowered backup generators are meant to pump water into the plant to cool the fuel. Even with the plant shutdown. That system worked properly in this case. plant operators couldn't circulate water through the reactors to cool them down. allowing water levels to drop and leaving the fuel at least partially exposed. Video courtesy of Reuters What happens when the water pumps fail? Without power to fuel the pumps. shutting down the nuclear reaction. the nuclear fuel still held tremendous heat. but not enough to run the water pumps. The health of the badly damaged nuclear plant in Japan is deteriorating by the hour.Reactor Monitor View Interactive Keep track of reactor incidents at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. 170 miles northeast of Tokyo. . What went wrong in Japan? Nuclear reactors in Japan are designed to turn off automatically anytime a disaster knocks out the electric grid. The fuel rods began to boil off the remaining water. but those systems failed in the tsunami that followed the quake. That allowed temperatures to rise dangerously.

but no explosion had taken place as of early Tuesday morning. The worst-case scenario is a full meltdown. fuel rods were left exposed for long enough to allow at least some melting. causing an explosion that damaged nearby structures at Reactors 1 and 3. . It is unclear what other systems were damaged. for reasons that remain unclear. will stabilize the plants. That has released at least some radioactive material into the atmosphere. That will cause irreversible damage. What is the risk to the surrounding area? Workers have released built-up gases to ease pressure inside the plant. water levels dropped.What caused the explosions at Reactors 1 and 3? Details are unclear. The escaping hydrogen reacted with oxygen in the atmosphere. At units 1 and 3. generating hydrogen and allowing pressure inside the core to rise dangerously. Many experts consider that unlikely as long as workers can pump seawater into the plant and so long as containment structures remain intact. Workers are struggling to pump in water. But on Monday. the plant's operators decided to release some of the pressure from the core by venting the built-up gas and steam. it's hoped. experts believe. and temperatures appear to be falling. however. but. Officials now consider Reactor 2 to be the most vulnerable of the three reactors to further damage. What is the situation at the different reactors now? Plant operators are trying to pump seawater into all three reactors to cool the fuel. Unit 2 initially appeared to be in better shape than the other two reactors. in which radioactive material eats through the various protective barriers and reaches the outside. but officials say it isn't enough to be dangerous to anyone outside the immediate vicinity of the plant. To prevent more serious damage. leaving fuel rods almost entirely exposed. But workers have managed to restore water levels for the time being. but officials say the main containment structures around the reactor cores²a key safety barrier²remained intact. but as the fuel rods begin to break down they can release gases that react with surrounding steam.