Nuclear power station

The main nuclear fuels are uranium and plutonium. In a nuclear power station nuclear fuel undergoes a controlled chain reaction in the reactor to produce heat - nuclear to heat energy.

  • Heat is used to change water into steam in the heat exchanger.
  • The steam drives the turbine (heat to kinetic energy).
  • This drives the generator to produce electricity - kinetic to electrical energy.

Cross-section of a nuclear reactor, showing how uranium fuel rods heat gas which is pumped through a heat exchanger which in turn heats water that produces steam to turn turbines. The core is encased in a thick concrete shield and has boron control rods and a graphite moderator to regulate the gas flow.Cross-section of a nuclear reactor

Advantages of nuclear fuels

Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear fuels do not produce carbon dioxide or sulphur dioxide. 1 kg of nuclear fuel produces millions of times more energy than 1 kg of coal.

Disadvantages of nuclear fuels

  • Like fossil fuels, nuclear fuels are non-renewable energy resources.
  • If there is an accident, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the environment. Although modern reactor designs are extremely safe.
  • Nuclear waste remains radioactive and is hazardous to health for thousands of years. It must be stored safely.

This waste material can never be used to make a 'nuclear bomb' which is sometimes mooted as a negative aspect of nuclear power stations. It is the fission fragments from a nuclear chain reaction and not fissionable itself.

The case for nuclear power

Move on to Video
next