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

Sneak Peek

There's an invisible force powering and propelling our way of life.
It's all around us. You can't feel it. Smell it. Or taste it.
But it's there all the same. And if you look close enough, you can see all the amazing and wondrous things it does.
It not only powers our cities and towns.
And all the high-tech things we love.
It gives us the power to invent.
To explore.
To discover.
To create advanced technologies.
This invisible force creates jobs out of thin air.
It adds billions to our economy.
It's on even when we're not.
And stays on no matter what Mother Nature throws at it.
This invisible force takes us to the outer reaches of outer space.
And to the very depths of our oceans.
It brings us together. And it makes us better.
And most importantly, it has the power to do all this in our lifetime while barely leaving a trace.
Some people might say it's kind of unbelievable.
They wonder, what is this new power that does all these extraordinary things?

A Design Team Pictures the Future of Nuclear Energy

For more than 100 years, the shape and location of human settlements has been defined in large part by energy and water. Cities grew up near natural resources like hydropower, and near water for agricultural, industrial and household use.

So what would the world look like with a new generation of small nuclear reactors that could provide abundant, clean energy for electricity, water pumping and desalination and industrial processes?

Hard to say with precision, but Third Way, the non-partisan think tank, asked the design team at the Washington, D.C. office of Gensler & Associates, an architecture and interior design firm that specializes in sustainable projects like a complex that houses the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. The talented designers saw a blooming desert and a cozy arctic village, an old urban mill re-purposed as an energy producer, a data center that integrates solar panels on its sprawling flat roofs, a naval base and a humming transit hub.

In the converted mill, high temperat…

Seeing the Light on Nuclear Energy

If you think that there is plenty of electricity, that the air is clean enough and that nuclear power is a just one among many options for meeting human needs, then you are probably over-focused on the United States or Western Europe. Even then, you’d be wrong.

That’s the idea at the heart of a new book, “Seeing the Light: The Case for Nuclear Power in the 21st Century,” by Scott L. Montgomery, a geoscientist and energy expert, and Thomas Graham Jr., a retired ambassador and arms control expert.


Billions of people live in energy poverty, they write, and even those who don’t, those who live in places where there is always an electric outlet or a light switch handy, we need to unmake the last 200 years of energy history, and move to non-carbon sources. Energy is integral to our lives but the authors cite a World Health Organization estimate that more than 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution.  In addition, they say, the global climate is heading for ruinous instability. E…