How Does it All Work?
It is all very well to hear that tremendous energy lies within atomic particles, which is converted into electrical energy in a nuclear power plant. The million dollar question is- how is it achieved?
Well the nuclear energy isn’t converted directly into electricity but the heat released during the fission reaction is used to convert water into steam which in turn runs a turbine. The turbine turns the alternator which produces electricity to be fed into the power grid.
Of course the overall process is not as simple as it seems and there are several types of nuclear power plants which are classified according to different parameters, which will be discussed in separate articles on this topic.
One concept which must be well understood in context of nuclear power plants is the critical mass of the fuel used. We know that fission occurs whenever an atom splits into two or more components. Let us take the case of U 235 which splits to give 2-3 neutrons in the process which in turn strike other atoms and cause further splitting. This chain can only be sustained if the mass of U 235 is of a certain minimum value known as the critical mass. Below this critical value the reaction would ultimately die out, while if the critical value is exceeded it may result in the likes of an atomic bomb.
The above statement might have sent jitters down your spine, but just relax. Technology is quite advanced these days and so nuclear power plants simply do not blow up every other day as if they were nuclear bombs . The very few incidents that have occurred to date were mainly caused by carelessness.