Skip to main content

Back to the Basics on Nuclear Energy

For those of you with friends and family in need of a good primer on nuclear energy, you could do worse than the summary provided by the folks at How Stuff Works.

Thanks to Growing Up All Over Again for the pointer.

Technorati tags: , , , , ,

Comments

GRLCowan said…
"You could do worse"? I'm sure that's true, but one can also do better. There are several errors:

In order for ... U-235 to work, a sample of uranium must be enriched ...

... To build a nuclear reactor, what you need is some mildly enriched uranium.


That's wrong both times he says it: heavy water reactors run on unenriched uranium, as do Magnox ones.

Typically, the uranium is formed into pellets

Just plain uranium? Not uranium oxide?

... The bundles are then typically submerged in water inside a pressure vessel. The water acts as a coolant. In order for the reactor to work, the bundle, submerged in water, must be slightly supercritical. That means that, left to its own devices, the uranium would eventually overheat and melt.

Does the water act only as a coolant? Does increasingly hot uranium -- oxide -- not become less reactive, and therefore "typically" level off its own fission rate, and with that, its temperature, well short of melting?

The author was informed of these difficulties shortly after May 26, 2006, that I know of, but the page hasn't changed since then, and apparently not since 2000.

One can do better here. The same enrichment-is-necessary error was present, but the author corrected it when I complained.

I think one can do better still; maybe I'll get around to taking a shot at it someday. (Aren't there better primer pages than either of these, already?)

--- G. R. L. Cowan, former hydrogen fan
Boron: internal combustion without exhaust gas

Popular posts from this blog

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…