Electricity is important for everyone. And nuclear power is the most controversial method or form of generating electricity. There are many experts who believe that evaluating the benefits of nuclear power plants should require a deliberate consideration of facts in terms of strategic, political, and emotional considerations. This should be done alongside the otherwise usual technical, environmental, and economic concerns that constitute the core elements of any technology that produces power. One should also focus on the nuclear power plant working principle.
It should be noted that according to statistics, nuclear energy almost provided 15% of the electricity that is generated across the globe. The plants where nuclear energy is produced are known as nuclear power plants. And nuclear power plants help in avoiding around 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. This fact shows that nuclear power is a step towards having a sustainable electricity supply for the world. It helps in achieving all sorts of goals in the domains of economics, environmental protection, and other vital capabilities.
Nuclear Fuel and the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
Now that we know what the nuclear power plant definition is, then students should remember that nuclear reactors need nuclear fuel for their proper functioning. And this nuclear fuel is often uranium. However, there are also other elements like plutonium that can be used as a substitute for uranium.
Thorium can also be turned into a proper isotope of uranium inside a nuclear reactor. This means that Thorium can also act as a nuclear fuel even though it is not classified as a nuclear fuel in the more straightforward sense.
It should be noted that Thorium occurs naturally just like uranium. But plutonium, on the other hand, is produced during a nuclear reaction. Hence, the main source of plutonium is a nuclear reactor.
One might find it interesting to note that uranium is present in seawater, most rocks, and is a rather common element that can be found in the crust of our planet. The abundance of uranium is also similar to that of molybdenum, beryllium, arsenic, germanium, and tin. It is also found in higher concentrations in some areas. And it is often these areas that act as suppliers of this particular element for nuclear power. This should give you a clear idea of what is a nuclear power plant and the nuclear power definition.
Now that students are familiar with nuclear fuel, the next important topic is the nuclear fuel cycle. The nuclear fuel cycle can be defined as the number of industrial processes that are considered together for the production of fuel for nuclear reactors and taking care of the spent fuel after it has been successfully removed from the reactor.
The nuclear fuel cycle begins when uranium is mined in different ores. The ore is also milled so that uranium can be extracted in the form of uranium oxide. This is done by processing large quantities of ore that are relatively low in terms of its quality. After that, that ore is crushed and grinded together so that uranium mineral particles can be extracted from it. Uranium in the form of a solution is captured from that. This is often done with sulfuric acid.
The next step consists of extracting uranium from the acid solution. This results in the formation of a solid oxide, which is also known as yellow cake. It is then packed into drums that are later sent for shipment to fuel manufacturing facilities located in different areas.
The Workings of a Nuclear Reactor and Nuclear Power Plant
Generating electricity inside a nuclear power plant working is not a simple process. But in this section, students can learn a basic overview of that process. To make matters simpler, students can think of the workings of a nuclear power plant meaning as being somewhat similar to plants that are powered by gas and coal to convert heat into electricity.
The only major difference in the case of power plants that are fired by fossil fuels is that they basically run on energy media that is extracted from oil, hard coal, and lignite. On the other hand, nuclear power plants utilize the heat that is given off when the nuclei of an atom split.
To help students understand this topic in a better manner, an image has been attached below. This image shows the workings of a nuclear power plant that has a pressurized water reactor model.
It should also be noted that the nuclear fission that occurs inside the reactor creates a lot of pressure. This pressure generates heat and this heats the water. The water eventually evaporates and it turns thermal energy into latent energy in the form of steam.
The steam that is under extreme pressure then drives the turbines. The turbines, in turn, move the generators that are connected to them to generate electrical energy. This is similar to a bicycle dynamo. When it comes to condensing the steam, then it is important for the turbines to drive by either using direct flow or seawater cooling. This is also possible by using a cooling system or a cooling tower. All of this should answer one’s question regarding how a nuclear power plant works.
Fun Facts About Nuclear Power
Did you know that nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear decay, nuclear fission, and nuclear fusion reactions? As of now, a large amount of energy is generated from nuclear power and that is made from the nuclear fission of uranium and plutonium.
Many experts also use the nuclear decay processes for niche applications, including radioisotope thermoelectric generators in several space probes like Voyager 2. A lot of international research is also focused on the area of electricity generation through fusion power.
Also, contrary to popular beliefs, nuclear power has one of the lowest fatalities levels per unit of energy that is generated. This is lower than the fatality rates for other energy sources. Petroleum, coal, hydroelectricity, and natural gas have been the cause of more fatalities per unit of energy due to accidents and air pollution.
Further, after the commercialization of nuclear power in the 1970s, it has prevented around 1.84 million deaths related to air pollution. The amount of carbon emission has also been reduced that would have otherwise resulted from the burning of fossil fuels.
This is not to say that there haven’t been disasters caused due to nuclear power plants. For example, the Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union that took place in 1986, the Three Mile Island accident in the United States of America in 1979, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that took place in Japan in 2011.
Because of these reasons, there is also a debate going on regarding nuclear power. There are several parties like Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy and the World Nuclear Association that deem nuclear energy to be a safe and sustainable form of energy that would reduce carbon emissions. But there are also organizations like NIRS and Greenpeace that hold firm on their belief that nuclear power poses several threats to both the environment and the people. The main question in the debate is regarding what is the main purpose of nuclear energy.