Nuclear Power Dossier: Operation and Maintenance
1st June, 2006
While the world worries about a terrorist attack on a nuclear power station, industry chiefs have an even greater threat - staff boredom
Perhaps surprisingly for an industry that prides itself on cutting edge technology, nuclear reactors aren’t very efficient. They rarely operate to capacity, so although they are generally designed and licenced to operate for 40 years their actual generating life is nearer 24-years. Essentially, nuclear power stations work in pretty much the same way as fossil fuel-burning stations, except that a ‘chain reaction’ inside a nuclear reactor makes the heat instead. The reactor uses the fabricated uranium rods as fuel, and the heat is generated by nuclear fi ssion. Neutrons smash into the nucleus of the uranium atoms, which split roughly in half and release energy in the form of heat. Carbon dioxide gas is pumped through the reactor to take the heat away, and the hot gas then heats water to make steam that drives turbines, which in turn drive generators.
The reactor is controlled with ‘control rods’ made of boron, or by including boric acid in the coolant water. Boron acts to slow down the fission process by absorbing neutrons. To generate more power, the presence of boron in the reactor is reduced, allowing more neutrons to crash into uranium atoms. Boric...
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