Nuclear Energy Explained - How does it work?

Have you ever had a quarrel over nuclear energy? We do ... And we found it frustrating and confusing. 

So let's try to familiarize ourselves with this subject before approaching the core working process. 

It all started in the 1940s. After the shock and horror of war and the use of the atomic bomb, nuclear energy promised a peaceful derived use of this new technology, helping the world get back on their feet. Everyone gave free rein to their imagination.

Would electricity become free? 

Could nuclear power help colonize Antarctica?
 Are there cars, planes or houses running nuclear?

 It seemed distant from only a few years of hard work. One thing was certain: the future would be atomic. A few years later, there was a kind of "nuclear hangover", since it turned out that nuclear was very complicated and very expensive. Going from physics to engineering seemed easy on paper, but was actually difficult. Private companies also believed that nuclear energy was far too risky an investment. Most of them preferred to stick to gas, coal and oil.But many people didn't want to just give up the promise of an atomic era and exciting new technologies. 

The prospect of cheap electricity, the chance to be independent of oil and gas imports and sometimes the secret desire to own the atomic weapon provided motivation to move forward

The nuclear heyday finally arrived in the early 1970s, when the war in the Middle East soared oil prices all over the world. The commercial interest and the investments occurred at an impressive rate. More than half of the world's reactors were built between 1970 and 1985.

What type of reactor to build, given the number of different types to choose from? 

One of the candidate is the light water reactor. It was not very innovative or very popular with scientists, but it had some decisive advantages: it existed, it worked and it was not terribly expensive

How does Nuclear Reactor Work? | How does a light water reactor work? 

The basic principle is shockingly simple: It heats water, thanks to an artificial chain reaction. Nuclear fission emits millions of times more energy than any chemical reaction. 

  1. Very heavy and not very stable elements, like Uranium 235, are bombarded with neutrons.
  2. The neutron is absorbed, but the resulting particle is unstable.
  3. Most of the time, it immediately separates into lighter velocity elements, in a few free neutrons, and in energy in the form of radiation. 
  4. Radiation heats the surrounding water, while neutrons repeat the process with other atoms, releasing more neutrons and radiation in a closely controlled chain reaction, Very different from the rapid, destructive and uncontrolled reaction of an atomic bomb.
  5. The radiation heats the water and convert it to steam, which in turn rotates the turbines.
  6. The rotating turbines generate electricity, based on the principle of dynamo.

In light water reactor, we need a way to control the energy of the neutrons. 

Plain water does the trick, which is convenient , since water is used in all cases to run the turbines. The light water reactor became very common because it was simple and inexpensive. However, it is neither the safest, most efficient, nor the most technically elegant of nuclear reactors. This renewed nuclear frenzy lasted only a decade.

 In 1979, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania narrowly escaped disaster when its heart melted. 

In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster directly threatened central Europe with a radioactive cloud, and in 2011, the Fukushima disaster sparked new discussions and concerns.

While in the 1980s, 218 new nuclear reactors were launched, their number and the global share of nuclear power generation has stagnated since the late 1980s. 

What is the situation today ? 

Today, nuclear power supplies 10% of the world's energy demand. There are some 439 nuclear reactors in 31 countries, around 70 new reactors are under construction in 2015, most of them in emerging countries. A total of 160 new reactors are planned worldwide.

 Most nuclear reactors were built over 25 years ago with fairly old technology. 

Over 80% are various types of the light water reactor. Today, many countries are faced with a choice: the costly replacement of old reactors, possibly with more efficient but less tested models, or abandoning nuclear power in favor of newer or older technologies, with different costs and environmental impacts. 

So what do you think ? should we use nuclear energy? 

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