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Fundamentals of Nuclear


Nuclear Fission
• We convert mass into
energy by breaking
large atoms (usually
Uranium) into smaller
atoms. Note the
increases in binding
energy per nucleon.

A slow moving neutron induces fission in Uranium 235 .

there are a lot of different possibilities with varying probabilities . Fission products • The fission products shown are just examples.

Expanding Chain Reaction • The fission reaction produces more neutrons which can then induce fission in other Uranium atoms. • Mouse Trap Chain Re action .


once we reach our desired power level we want each fission to produce exactly one additional fission . Linear Chain Reaction • Obviously. an expanding chain reaction cannot be sustained for long (bomb). For controlled nuclear power.

. We need to slow neutrons down. fissions produce fast moving electron. We need to get rid of a good fraction of our neutrons. • Fissions typically produce several neutrons but a linear chain reaction only needs one. but. Tricks of the trade • Slow moving (thermal) neutrons are more effective at inducing fission.

Moderator • Neutrons are slowed down by having them collide with light atoms (Water in US reactors). • Highest level of energy transfer occurs when the masses of the colliding particles are equal (ex: neutron and hydrogen) .

Control Rods • Control rods are made of a material that absorbs excess neutrons (usually Boron or Cadmium). • By controlling the number of neutrons. we can control the rate of fissions .

Basic Ideas • The Uranium is both the fuel and the source of neutrons. • Control rods regulate the energy output by “sucking up” excess neutrons . • The neutrons induce the fissions • The Water acts as both the moderator and a heat transfer medium.

Most of the rest is 238U which does not work for fission power. Practicalities • Processing of Uranium • Each ton of Uranium ore produces 3-5 lbs of Uranium compounds • Uranium ore is processed near the mine to produce “yellow cake”. a material rich in U3O8. .7% of U in yellow cake is 235U. • Only 0.

US Uranium Deposits .

World Distribution of Uranium .

. Enrichment • To be used in US reactors. • Yellow cake is converted into UF6 and this compound is enriched using gaseous diffusion and/or centrifuges. fuel must be 3-5% 235U. • There are some reactor designs that run on pure yellow cake.

• NOTE: A nuclear bomb requires nearly 100% pure 235U or 239Pu. The 3% found in reactor grade Uranium CANNOT create a nuclear explosion! .

• The fuel rods are collected into bundles (~200 rods per bundle • ~175 bundles in the core . • The fuel pellets are collected into long tubes. Fuel Pellets • The enriched UF6 is converted into UO2 which is then made into fuel pellets. (~12ft).

• It must be permeable to neutrons and be able to withstand high heats. . • Typically cladding is made of stainless steel or zircaloy. Cladding • The material that the fuel rods are made out of is called cladding.


Controlling the chain reaction depends on • Arrangement of the fuel/control rods • Quality of the moderator • Quality of the Uranium fuel • Neutron energy required for high probability of fission .

. • BWR: P=1000 psi T=545F • PWR P=2250 psi T=600F • PWR is most common and is basis of marine nuclear power.• Two common US reactor types: Boiling Water Reactor and Pressurized Water Reactor.

Reactor is inside a large containment building .


Other Options • Other countries use different reactor designs. • Some are designed to use pure yellow cake without further enrichment • Liquid metal such as sodium or gasses such as Helium are possibilities to use for coolants . Some use Graphite as a moderator. • Some use heavy water (D2O) as a moderator.

• Q: Why not use it as a fuel too? . Breeder Reactors • A big problem with nuclear power is the creation of Plutonium in the reactor core. • This is a long lived radioactive element that is difficult to store.

4 days 239 94 0 1  . Basic Idea • Process that creates the Pu. • During fission use one of the extra neutrons to create a Pu atom n U  U 238 92 239 92 239 92U 23  Np   min 239 93 0 1  239 93 Np 2  Pu   .

• Doubling time: Time required to produce twice as many 239Pu atoms as 235U destroyed.• Somewhat difficult in that we want fast neutrons to “breed” the 239Pu out of the 238 U. but we want slow neutrons to induce the fission of 235U. • Requires a different design of reactor. A good design will have a 6-10 doubling time. • There are no currently operating breeder reactors in the US. .

Nuclear Power in the US • We currently generate approximately 20% of our electricity using nuclear power. • Even “new” plants are nearing 20 years old and will start to need replacing. • No new nuclear power plants have been “ordered” since the late 1970’s. .

US Nuclear Power Plants .


World Nuclear Power .