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

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Missing the Point about Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Plants

A group that includes oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania released a study on Monday that argues that twenty years ago, planners underestimated the value of nuclear plants in the electricity market. According to the group, that means the state should now let the plants close.

Huh?

The question confronting the state now isn’t what the companies that owned the reactors at the time of de-regulation got or didn’t get. It’s not a question of whether they were profitable in the '80s, '90s and '00s. It’s about now. Business works by looking at the present and making projections about the future.

Is losing the nuclear plants what’s best for the state going forward?

Pennsylvania needs clean air. It needs jobs. And it needs protection against over-reliance on a single fuel source.


What the reactors need is recognition of all the value they provide. The electricity market is depressed, and if electricity is treated as a simple commodity, with no regard for its benefit to clean air o…

Why Nuclear Plant Closures Are a Crisis for Small Town USA

Nuclear plants occupy an unusual spot in the towns where they operate: integral but so much in the background that they may seem almost invisible. But when they close, it can be like the earth shifting underfoot.

Lohud.com, the Gannett newspaper that covers the Lower Hudson Valley in New York, took a look around at the experience of towns where reactors have closed, because the Indian Point reactors in Buchanan are scheduled to be shut down under an agreement with Gov. Mario Cuomo.


From sea to shining sea, it was dismal. It wasn’t just the plant employees who were hurt. The losses of hundreds of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in payrolls and millions in property taxes depressed whole towns and surrounding areas. For example:

Vernon, Vermont, home to Vermont Yankee for more than 40 years, had to cut its municipal budget in half. The town closed its police department and let the county take over; the youth sports teams lost their volunteer coaches, and Vernon Elementary School lost th…