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

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