Working of Nuclear power plant explained

We use electricity extensively in our daily routine. For almost every operation at home or on the job, we need electricity. Rather, currently, it’s difficult to think of life without electricity. So, exactly from where we get the electricity from? We get it through power plants & nuclear power plant is one of the sources of electricity generation.

nuclear fuel
nuclear fuel

Furthermore, there are many types of power plants. Thermal, hydro, nuclear, solar and wind are some main types of power plants. Actually, this classification is mainly on the basis of the source of power generation. The nuclear power plant is actually a thermal power plant that uses a nuclear reactor as a source of heat.

The nuclear reactor generates heat by the nuclear fission reaction. This heat then boils the water to generate steam. The pressurized steam then rotates the turbine. Eventually, the turbine rotates the generator producing electricity.

Nuclear Chain Reaction

We always wonder how radioactive material like uranium generates heat. We will explain here in detail. First of all, few radioisotopes go on splitting themselves indefinitely & automatically causing a chain reaction. In the process, they generate heat. Thus, we can harvest this heat energy to produce electricity.

Let’s take one example. If we take stable uranium Uranium-235. Each atom of the Uranium-235 contains 92 protons and 143 neutrons. If we fire one extra neutron at U-235 molecule it converts into U-236. The U-236 is an unstable atom of the same molecule and it now contains 92 protons and 144 neutrons.

Furthermore, the highly unstable U-236 then splits apart into two smaller atoms Barium and Crypton. As a result, this reaction generates a lot of heat energy. At the same time, this reaction also fires three spare neutrons causing a chain reaction. Remember we started from firing a single neutron and reaction goes on with this further bombardment of neutrons. These neutrons then further strike to U-235 and reaction repeats. This fission reaction generates energy in the form of heat.

Working of nuclear power plant

First of all, the nuclear fuel is loaded into the reactor dome. The reactor dome is made up of reinforced concrete to sustain an explosion. It’s just a safety measure in case of a nuclear emergency. Furthermore, the core of the reactor handles continuous chain reaction. The control rods made up of cadmium can soak up neutrons. We can raise or lower the control rods to slow down and speed up a chain reaction.

The water is pumped into the core of the reactor to collect heat energy. This water keeps on flowing in a continuous loop in the reactor. This hot water then comes to the heat exchanger. In the heat exchanger, the hot water exchanges its heat to another cooler water in the loop. This cooler water then turns into steam. The heat exchanger keeps both water loops separate. Hence, it simply avoids radioactive contamination.

Furthermore, the high-pressure steam then turns the turbine at high speed. This steam then exits the system into the environment. That is why we see lots of steam coming from giant chimneys at nuclear power plants. This turbine again rotates the generator, generating electricity. This electricity then distributed to our homes, offices, and factories.

Can nuclear power plant explode like a nuclear bomb?

The scientific answer to this question is NO. Although nuclear power plant works on the principle of chain reaction, it’s not like a nuclear bomb. The nuclear bomb needs enriched Uranium-235. Power plants work on impure Uranium. This impure Uranium needs some material called moderator to keep the chain reaction going. Without a moderator, the chain reaction stops.

Furthermore, if the reactor goes out of control, it overheats and then explodes. As a result, large radioactive cloud shoots up into the atmosphere. In worst cases, the reactor melts down may contaminate groundwater. At the same time, the chain reaction stops and doesn’t continue. The reactor is destroyed but all of these are worst-case scenarios. However, it is not like a nuclear bomb. Although any type of radiation is harmful to life.

Advantages and disadvantages

First of all, its a great and concentrated source of energy. The single nuclear plant generates about 2-3GW of power. Its enormous amount of energy in a small area. To generate that much amount of energy we need at least 1500 wind turbines. Its a cleaner form of energy & it lowers down carbon emission. These plants reduce dependency on fossil fuels. In addition, these plants need less fuel as compare to coal-fired power plants.

Now we will come to the disadvantages. The nuclear power plant produces nuclear waste. This nuclear waste is difficult to process and we can’t recycle it. The nuclear byproducts from nuclear reactors are dangerous. Someone with bad intentions could use it to create a nuclear bomb.

Furthermore, nuclear power plants are expensive to commission and decommission. They may create air and water pollution in surroundings. They also need a large amount of water. So, they generally located on coasts. These locations are highly prone to an increase in sea levels.

In conclusion, it’s very hard to decide whether nuclear power plants are really our future source of energy. But considering greenhouse gas emissions, it is cleaner than traditional coal-based electricity generation plants.

Watch the nuclear power plant in action

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