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Nuclear power plant

Nuclear power plant

Nuclear power plants convert the energy released during nuclear fission into electric power.

Geography

Keywords

nuclear power plant, reactor block, nuclear power, nuclear energy, power station, energy production, generator, nuclear, nuclear fission, energy, atom, uranium, radioactivity, Paks, electric current, quantum physics, radiation, particle, particle physics, geography, physics, Danube

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A nuclear power plant is a kind of thermal power station, as the fuel is used to generate heat. The heat released in the boiler (called reactor) is conveyed by a coolant and used for generating steam. The difference with other types of thermal power stations is that the necessary heat is released in a different process, nuclear fission.

Plants using pressurized water reactors constitute the large majority of nuclear power plants operating in the world. There are about 300 of these reactors around the world, producing 60% of the world's nuclear energy.
In pressurized water reactors, water circulates in two separate systems, which are isolated from each other.

In the primary circuit, heat is generated in the steel vessels of the reactor, where the fuel assemblies are surrounded by pressurized water; hence the name 'pressurized water reactor'.

Water has a dual role: on the one hand, it acts as a neutron moderator; on the other hand, it serves to convey heat to the heat exchanger, where thermal energy is transferred to a low pressure system (the secondary circuit).

Primary circuit:
Water enters the primary circuit at a temperature of 275 °C (527 °F) and it is heated to about 315 °C (599 °F) by the nuclear reaction of low-enriched (3-4%) uranium dioxide. To prevent the heated water from becoming steam, it is kept under high pressure (100-150 bar or 1,450-2,176 psi).

Water in the primary circuit, which contains radioactive particles (as a result of being in contact with the reactor core) circulates in a closed, isolated system.

Secondary circuit:
The heated water is conveyed to the heat exchanger, where it transfers heat to the water circulating in the secondary circuit. Pressure is much lower here (40-60 bar or 580-870 psi), therefore the water boils and the resulting steam is led to the turbines.

The immense pressure of the steam rotates turbine blades. The resulting kinetic energy is converted into electricity by a generator. Electric current is then conducted to the high voltage power lines through transformers.

Building new nuclear power plants is expensive, but they are cheap to operate; a few grams of uranium dioxide provides enough energy to satisfy the yearly energy demand of an average family.

Their operation is not harmful to the environment, as there are no harmful emissions, but radioactive waste must be handled and disposed of safely.
Radioactive contamination caused by nuclear power stations is minimal, it comprises only 0.01% of the radiation that affects the population. The source of the vast majority of radiation is the Earth's crust, cosmic radiation and medical instruments.
Carbon-fueled power stations emit more radiation than a nuclear reactor. By eating a banana, a person absorbs more radiation than they would by living 80 km (50 mi) away from a nuclear reactor for one year.

Pressurized water reactor

In the reactors, a controlled chain reaction takes place. Uranium atoms absorb neutrons and then split, releasing 2 or 3 neutrons and energy. This energy is used to heat water, while the neutrons split further nuclei.
The reaction is controlled, since the control rods absorb a certain amount of neutrons. Without this, the reaction would be uncontrolled, similarly to the process in a nuclear bomb explosion.

The reaction can be accelerated by pulling the control rods outwards from the fuel assembly, and slowed down by pushing them further in.

The speed of neutrons is reduced through the use of a moderator. This is necessary because slow neutrons are more likely cause further nuclear fission of uranium atoms and thereby sustain a chain reaction. In pressurized water reactors, water also serves as a moderator.

Narration

The first nuclear reactor was assembled in the US in 1942. Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner played a key role in its development.
During the following decades, nuclear power plants became widespread; there are currently about 200 operating in the world, with over 400 reactors.

In pressurized water reactors, uranium dioxide fuel rods are used. Nuclear fission generates heat, which is used in the primary circuit to heat water to a temperature of nearly 300 °C (572 °F). Due to the very high pressure in this circuit, the heated water does not boil.

In the heat exchanger the generated heat is transferred to the water circulating in the secondary circuit. Since the pressure is much lower here, the water boils and the resulting steam is used to rotate the turbines, the motion of which is converted into electric current by the generator.

The exhaust steam is then cooled with water. Since the water in the primary and secondary circuits circulates in separate closed systems, the cooling water will not contain any radioactive particles.

In the reactors, a controlled chain reaction takes place. Uranium atoms absorb neutrons and then split, releasing 2 or 3 neutrons and energy. This energy is used to heat water, while the neutrons split further nuclei.
The reaction is controlled, since the control rods absorb a certain amount of neutrons. Without this, the reaction would be uncontrolled, similarly to the process in a nuclear bomb explosion.

The reaction can be accelerated by pulling the control rods outwards from the fuel assembly, and slowed down by pushing them further in.

The speed of neutrons is reduced through the use of a moderator. This is necessary because slow neutrons are more likely cause further nuclear fission of uranium atoms and thereby sustain a chain reaction. In pressurized water reactors, water also serves as a moderator.

In the event of a malfunction, modern reactors use negative feedback mechanisms to automatically shut themselves down.

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