What is Nuclear Power?

The process used was to gather information from books, the Internet, and interviewing my father who works at a nuclear power plant.

There are many forms of energy. Coal, gas, oil, and nuclear power are the most common forms of energy used in the United States. Three of these energies are limited: coal, gas, and oil. Nuclear power is unlike the other three because it uses the fission process instead of combustion. This form of power is unlimited. It produces heat energy like the others, but does not produce Carbon Dioxide and other particulate emissions.

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Nuclear Power is made by Nuclear Fission. To create fission you must split a nucleus (usually Uranium) with a neutron. This starts a chain reaction that continues endlessly. In the reaction the splitting creates energy, as the energy bonds that tie the sub-atomic particles (protons, neutrons and electrons) together are broken. Only a small amount of energy is released by each fission, but billions of fissions are occurring, adding up to a lot of heat energy. This is a very powerful energy that makes up 20% of electricity generation in the US.

Fission Process
A byproduct of Nuclear Power is Radiation. There are three types of radiation. One is called Gamma Rays. It is very dangerous to your skin and organs. Gamma Rays can be stopped by several feet of concrete and a few inches of lead. To reduce the harm exposure to Gamma radiation can do, people use distance, shielding, and minimize time exposed. Sunlight exposes people to Gamma, but it travels 93 million miles (distance), and goes through the air (shielding) reducing the damaging effects on people. Alpha particles are another type of radiation. Alpha particles are positively charged particles that lose power rapidly. They are not dangerous to the skin tissue but if inhaled or ingested can be fatal. A simple sheet of paper can stop Alpha Particles.

Also Beta Particles are radiation. Beta Particles are positive or negative electrons. They are like Alpha Particles, they are only dangerous if inhaled or ingested. Clothing or aluminum can stop Beta Particles. All of these types of radiation can be considered nuclear waste, but also often have uses. X Rays use radiation to examine us. Radiation is used in medicine, dentistry, and industries. Remember the next time you get an X- Ray you are exposed to radiation.

There are two types of reactors. One is the Boiling Water Reactor (BWR). First, pure water is pumped into the reactor and boiled into steam. The steam travels through the containment structure to the turbine. The turbine spins turning a generator that makes electricity. The steam goes to a condenser. The condenser uses colder water (usually from a river or the sea) to condenses the steam into water, which is reused by the reactor. A BWR has only one side.

Boiling Water Reactor (BWR)
The second type is the Pressurized Water Reactor. The Pressurized Water Reactor is different from the Boiling. It has two sides, the primary (reactor) side and the secondary (steam generator) side. The water on the primary side is pressurized, and steam is not produced in the reactor. Being pressurized, the water can get hotter. The hot water goes through steam generators, which are like condensers except the heat transfer results in steam being produced on the secondary side. This steam goes to a turbine/generator and the rest of the cycle is like that of a BWR.

Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)
There are many advantages and disadvantages of nuclear power. A disadvantage is that people use its immense power for bombs. Another is that deadly waste is a byproduct. An advantage is that it helps save natural resources like coal and oil. Another advantage is that it does not produce harmful smoke (pollution) to the atmosphere.

I have concluded from my research that nuclear power is a good way to generate electricity and is less polluting than burning fuels. High level nuclear waste is a problem, but so is the ash from burning fossil fuels which releases heavy metals-such as Arsenic-into the environment. Radiation is another unwanted result of fission, but can be contained. I learned a lot doing this project. I have learned more about radiation then ever before. I never knew there was a pressurized water reactor. I shall always remember the process of nuclear fission.

Encyclopedia Brittanica
Grolier Encyclopedia
Nuclear Fission by Marck Dredward


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