What is nuclear power?
The definition of nuclear power:
Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy; that is generating heat (boiling water that makes steam), which is used to turn turbines to generate electricity.
Nuclear power is energy contained in atoms. This energy can be released as heat which turns water into steam which turns a turbine which then generates electricity.
How much energy can one atom make?
One atom can make a large amount of energy. Albert Einstein proved this with an equation:
E = mc2
E is the Energy, m is the mass, and c is the speed of light. This equation states that you can turn a tiny amount of mass into a huge amount of energy. This is possible because c is a large number and c squared is even a bigger number. Thus it should be possible to make lots of energy from not very much at all, and this is the basic idea behind nuclear power.
Nuclear plants work by splitting very large atoms into smaller, more tightly bound and more stable atoms. By splitting big atoms into smaller atoms you generate a huge amount of heat, and this generated heat is a form of energy and you can harness this energy.
What is the cost to build a nuclear power plant?
A typical cost to construct and build a nuclear power plant with a generation 3 reactor that gives between 1400 – 1800 MW will be in the region of USD 5 – 6 billion. That amount of money in South African Rand (ZAR) will be R 84 316 800 000.00, this is about R84, 3168 billion.
How long does it take to build a nuclear power plant?
First of all, the nuclear power plants are very complex to construct and build and their construction periods are longer than the other power plants that do not use nuclear power. The estimate time to construct and build a large nuclear power plant will be between 5 to 7 years (This is only the time taken to build the plant and not the planning and licensing).
Other factors that take so long to build the nuclear power plant is that the plant have a lot of resources, the equipment is very expensive, and most important, there must be safety equipment installed (a lot of safety is required). To compare the time that it take to build a nuclear unit, large coal plants can be built in 4 years, and natural gas plants can be built in 3 years.
The use of Uranium fuel rods:
To power the nuclear power plants, you need Uranium ore.
What is Uranium?
Uranium is a very heavy metal with a very high density that can be used as an abundant source of concentrated energy.
But you cannot use the raw Uranium ore in the nuclear power plants; it needs to be processed into a usable fuel.
After mining the ore, it is then crushed and ground up. This grounded ore is then treated with an acid to dissolve the uranium which is then recovered from a solution. The end product of the processed uranium ore will be Uranium oxide concentrate (U3O8).
This concentrate (is mildly radioactive) is not yet a usable fuel and needs to be processed further.
[The image on the left is the Uranium oxide concentrate or known as yellow cake].
This uranium oxide is then converted into gas (uranium hexafluoride (UF6) which enriches the uranium. After the enrichment it is converted into uranium dioxide (UO2) which is formed into fuel pellets.
[Left: Nuclear fuel assembly]
All this fuel pellets are placed inside thin metal tubes that are assembled into bundles to become the fuel elements in the core of the reactor.
The lifetime of the uranium fuel rods is between 3 – 6 years. After these amounts of years, the fuel rods are removed, stored or reprocessed or disposed underground.
Advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power:
• Electricity generation from nuclear stations reduce the energy generated from fossil fuels which means lowering greenhouse emissions.
• Nuclear stations use less fuel that offers more energy.
• The production of the electricity is a continuous process.
Disadvantages of nuclear stations:
• The nuclear waste takes a very long time (actually years) to eliminate radioactivity.
• Nuclear plants have a limited life span.
• Not all the countries have nuclear technology or Uranium ore.
• Strict safety rules and safety precautions.
Is nuclear power good or bad?
Nuclear power can be good and bad. For all the good reasons are that you are using fewer materials to generate a huge amount of electricity and you are lowering the greenhouse emissions. The electricity generating process is a continuous process; this means there are almost no electricity failures.
But if you are using nuclear power, it can also be dangerous, because nuclear power is highly radioactive that can cause extreme damages if not handled with extreme care and safety precautions with strict safety regulations and rules. With one wrong decision or a small mistake in managing the plant, it could destroy a lot of lives and kilometers of land and surface area around the plant would be radioactive. This would make the area around the nuclear station inhabitant for decades of years because of the extreme dosage of radioactivity. Thus the nuclear power can be good in their ways and also very bad if not handled in a properly way.
Nuclear fusion vs nuclear fission:
Nuclear Fission process:
• The atom is split into two or more smaller and lighter atoms.
• The byproduct of this process is that it produces many highly radioactive particles.
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