Nuclear Power Fundamentals

In order to better understand the process involved in producing electrical power by nuclear fission plants, we should review some fundamentals. An atom is the smallest particle into which an element can be broken. The central part of an atom is called its nucleus (this is how the term “nuclear power” was derived).

Nuclear Fuels

A sustained nuclear fission reaction is dependent upon the use of the proper type of fuel. The most desirable fuels for nuclear fission reactions are uranium-233, uranium-235, and plutonium-239. These three nuclear materials are the only fissionable isotopes capable of producing sustained reactions. Of these nuclear fuels, the only one that occurs naturally is uranium235. The other two isotopes are produced by artificial means. Ordinarily, nuclear reactors that use uranium-235 as a fuel are called converter reactors.

Nuclear Reactors

There is a variety of types of nuclear reactors. The major type used in the United States has been the water-moderated reactor. The fundamental difference between a nuclear power plant and a conventional power plant is the fuel that is employed. Most conventional power plants burn coal, oil, or gas to create heat, while the present nuclear plants “burn” uranium. Burning uranium has proved to be a very effective source of power production; however, there is much controversy over this source of power

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