What is a nuclear power plant?
A Nuclear Power Plant utilises nuclear fission to generate heat which is used to create steam which in turn drives a turbine to produce electricity via a generator. In many ways they are a generic thermal power station similar to the like of coal power stations. The benefits of a nuclear power plant is that the release no carbon as a result of the nuclear fission process. They do however generate a small amount of nuclear waste which will need to be handles with care.
Nuclear power plants are more and more being recognised as a key component of a clean energy mix. Providing a secure base load of energy that can be generated pretty much 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year. Nuclear power plants continue to be considered expensive compared to other energy source due to recent costs associated with building new power plants. However, the recent influx of new builds is allowing for efficiencies in the build costs and new technology in the form of Small Modular Reactors promises to reduce the build costs further.
KEY TAKEAWAYS - Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission to generate steam to drive a turbine which provides electricity. - It is a very similar process to that used by fossil fuels but utilising a carbon free energy source. - There are 440 nuclear power plants in operation in 30 countries across the world. - Nuclear power plants are safe but have a way to go to manage the perceptions of the general public.
Tour of Sizewell B PWR (from 4:49 to see how the reactor works)
How does a nuclear power plant work?
A nuclear power plant utilises complex chain reactions, requires the most sophisticated of operating systems and are some of the worlds technological marvels. However, at their basic level the process is actually very simple. Much like most fossil fuel plants in fact.
Heat is released to make steam to generate electricity.
Instead of burning coal to generate heat a nuclear power plant harnesses the release of energy from nuclear fission in a controlled manner. The controlled chain reaction allows for the heating of water or gas to generate steam. The steam is used to drive a turbine which generates electricity.
There are a number of nuclear reactor designs utilised by nuclear power plants. The vast majority utilise water as a means to generate steam and also cool the reactor core to maintain control. Water reactors often heat up water to over 300°C using pressure vessels to control and maintain containment.
How many nuclear power plants are in the world?
As of the 9th November 2020 there are currently 440 nuclear power plants operating around the world. There are 30 countries currently utilising nuclear power plants generating xxxx per year.
The US leads the way by a substantial margin with 95 operating nuclear power plants. This is followed by France and China each having 57 and 47 nuclear power plants respectively. You then see Russia with 38, Japan 33, South Korea 24, India 22, Canada 19, and the UK and Ukraine both with 15 nuclear reactors each. Each of the remaining 20 countries have less that 6 nuclear reactors.
Are nuclear power plants safe?
We would like this to be our answer and it is. But this subject needs a little more discussion. On one hand nuclear power plants have an over 60 year demonstrable track record of providing a safe means of generating electricity. On the other hand it is easy to understand peoples nervousness following events such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
The facts will tell you that no one died from radiation at Fukushima and less than 50 people died in the 30 years following the Chernobyl disaster. More recently some scientists are even arguing that governments over-reacted and there was no justification to evacuate people on the grounds of radiological protection.
Like it or not, the answer of whether a nuclear power plant is safe or not rests in the hands of the public. The perceptions of the industry are what drives public opinion and ultimately government approval to utilise the technology. Consistent communications are required from all of the nuclear industry and the previous culture of secretism of years gone by needs to be changed.
The nuclear industry does not need to provide spin, propaganda or circulate negativity on any other form of energy production. The facts, figures and continued safety culture of the industry speak for themselves. The industry just needs to do a much better job of opening up and explaining itself to the public.