The energy transition is being supported with low-carbon resources. Learn more about nuclear power plants by reading.
Nuclear power plants are a type of power plant that uses the process of nuclear fission in order to generate electricity. In the current energy transition, nuclear power is a crucial low-carbon source of electricity.
With the United States and France being the two biggest producers, nuclear energy supplies about 11% of the world’s electricity. We will cover every aspect of nuclear power plants in this article.
About Nuclear Power Plants
About 20% of the electricity used in the US is produced by nuclear reactors. The fuel used most frequently in nuclear reactors at power plants is uranium.
When uranium atoms split apart in a process known as fission, nuclear energy is produced. The heat produced by fission is a huge amount of energy. A steam turbine is turned by the steam produced by this heat. Electricity is produced by the electric generator that is connected to the turbine.
Enriched uranium, low-level waste, and spent nuclear fuel are all examples of radioactive materials that can be found at nuclear power plants.
- Enriched uranium is the fuel for nuclear power plants. About the same amount of electricity can be produced by one ton of coal as by one enriched uranium pellet, which is about an inch long.
- Low-level radioactive waste includes items used at the power plant that become contaminated with radioactive material during energy production. This may include supplies like clothing and shoe covers, mop heads, cleaning rags, filters, reactor water, and tools. At the nuclear power plant, low-level waste is temporarily stored. After some time, waste may be sent to a low-level waste disposal site. Or, once items are no longer radioactive, they can be thrown out with regular trash.
- High-level radioactive waste includes spent (used) reactor fuel and wastes remaining after the spent fuel is reprocessed. Highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is kept in pools or containers that have been specifically designed for that purpose. In the United States, there are no facilities for the permanent or extended storage of high-level waste. Each nuclear power plant is required to have high-level radioactive waste storage on-site.
When nuclear power plants are constructed and run, public safety is given top priority. Nuclear power plants emit very little radioactive material into the air while they are in normal operation. The federal government has set limits on the number of radioactive air emissions that nuclear power plants are allowed to release.
The operator of the nuclear power plant must keep track of these releases and submit a yearly report to the United States. NRC, or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. These publicly available reports list the radioactive isotopes released, how much was released, and any possible dose to the public.
Radiation will be contained in reactor buildings in the event of an accident. Operators of nuclear power plants are required to have emergency plans in place and to regularly practice them. Plans for alerting and evacuating local residents in the event of an emergency are part of these emergency response plans.
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Components of Nuclear Power Plants
What constitutes a nuclear power plant’s primary parts? There are several components common to most types of reactors: Learn How Do Nuclear Power Plants Work?
The reactor is a key component of a power plant, as it contains the fuel and its nuclear chain reaction, along with all of the nuclear waste products. Similar to how the boiler is for a coal plant, the reactor serves as the heat source for the power plant.
The majority of nuclear fuel used in nuclear reactors is uranium, and the fission reactions that occur in it are what cause a reactor to generate heat. The coolant in the reactor receives this heat, which is then transferred, and other components of the nuclear power plant are heated as a result.
Other types of nuclear reactors, in addition to their use in power production, are used for the production of plutonium, the propulsion of ships, aircraft, and satellites, as well as for research and medical applications. The power plant is made up of the reactor as well as various safety systems, turbines, and generators. Its distinctiveness from other external heat engines is due to the reactor.
All nuclear power plants produce steam, but there are huge variations in how this is done.
Pressurized water reactors are the most widely used type of power plant in the world. They generate steam using two loops of circling the water. The first loop transfers extremely hot liquid water to a heat exchanger, where water under lower pressure is circulated. Once it has heated up and turned to steam, it can be directed toward the turbine section.
The second most common type of reactor used in the production of electricity, boiling water reactors, convert water inside their cores directly into steam.
Turbine and Generator
Once the steam is created, it passes through one or more turbines at high pressure and speed. These reach extremely high speeds, which causes the steam to lose energy and condense back into a cooler liquid form of water. A generator generates electricity that is used to power the electrical grid while being spun by the turbines’ rotation.
The cooling towers are conceivably the most recognizable image of a nuclear power plant. Through the transfer of heat from hot water (from the turbine section) to the cooler outside air, they function to reject waste heat into the atmosphere.
A small amount of the hot water—about 2%—evaporates as it cools in the presence of the air and rises through the top. Additionally, these plants don’t emit any carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change.
Instead of using cooling towers, many nuclear power plants simply discharge the waste heat into a nearby river, lake, or ocean. These sizable bodies of water or cooling towers are also found in numerous other power plants, such as coal-fired power plants. Because nuclear power plants and coal-fired power plants use nearly identical processes to convert heat into electricity, there is a similarity between the two.
You can learn more about other types of power plants, such as Hydroelectric Power Plants, Thermal Power Plants, Geothermal Power Plants, Solar Power Plants, Wind Power Plants, Tidal Power Plants, and Biomass Power Plants.
The Efficiency of Nuclear Power Plants
A nuclear power plant’s efficiency is assessed in a manner similar to that of other heat engines because, in a sense, it is a sizable heat engine. The amount of electric power produced for each unit of thermal power gives the plant its thermal efficiency, and due to the second law of thermodynamics, there is an upper limit to how efficient these plants can be.
A typical nuclear power plant has an efficiency of 33–37%, which is comparable to a fossil fuel power plant. Efficiency levels above 45% may be possible with higher temperatures and more cutting-edge designs, such as Generation IV nuclear reactors.
Conclusion: Nuclear Power Plants
Nuclear power plants have much lower carbon footprints than fossil fuels like natural gas and brown coal and are comparable to renewable energy sources like solar and wind farms.
Nuclear power plants are among the safest ways to produce electricity, on par with solar and wind power facilities, despite some spectacular catastrophes.
How Many Nuclear Power Plants Are Left in the World?
As of January 2023, there are 422 operable power reactors in the world, with a combined electrical capacity of 378.3 With a combined capacity of 66 GW and 105 GW, respectively, there are 57 reactors currently under construction and 103 reactors planned, and 325 additional reactors are being suggested.
Which Country Has the Most Nuclear Power Plants?
The United States meanwhile remains the globe’s biggest nuclear energy stronghold, with 92 operational reactor units as of July 2022, a 12-year decline from 2011.