Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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.

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1 comment:

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