The energy demands of the world are continuously increasing. Experts are worried about the future of power generation because there are
not enough supplies of coal, water and gas to fulfill the needs of mankind in
the long term future. Alternative sources of energy such as nuclear
energy are being developed. Nuclear energy has several advantages over other sources of energy because it is not limited by space or location. In this article we will learn about nuclear power
plants and some of the basic underlying concepts.
What is a Nuclear Power Plant?
As the name itself suggests, a nuclear power plant is a
facility where nuclear energy is harnessed to generated electricity. For those
of us who haven’t heard about this term, it may seem like a new concept since we
usually hear of atomic and hydrogen bombs which use nuclear energy for large
scale destruction. But the same power is used for constructive purposes in
nuclear power plants
The basic underlying principle of a nuclear power plant can
be understood from the equation of mass-energy equivalence which is stated as
E = ∆mc2
Where E is the amount of energy released when a change in
mass occurs during a nuclear reaction. This equation may not seem very
complicated to you, but as you know “c” represents the speed of light
which is of the order of 3 lakh kilometers per second. Just imagine the amount
of energy released even if a tiny amount of mass is converted into energy.
This gives an edge to nuclear power plants over
conventional sources like coal or gas because it means freedom from
geographical factors and parameters. Furthermore since the amount of fuel required
is much less as compared to conventional sources of power generation, there is
no need to have extensive storage facilities and transportation networks for the same amount of power generated.
Basic Nuclear Reactions
Nuclear reactions fall into two major categories:
fission and fusion. Fission refers to the nuclear reaction where a heavy
nucleus is broken into nuclei of intermediate atomic number. Fusion refers to
the nuclear reaction wherein light nuclei get combined to form a new nucleus.
Energy can be either released or absorbed during the process
depending on whether the final mass of the products is greater than or less
than the initial mass of the reactants.
The Chain Reaction
The above mentioned types of reactions are not of much use
for generating electrical energy on their own. We require something known
as a controlled chain reaction if power is to be generated in a nuclear power
plant. When fission is started in a nuclear material it could die out slowly,
sustain itself constantly or develop into an uncontrolled reaction. The first
and the last options are not useful for generation of electricity. It is
only when we have a sustained reaction, that we can utilize nuclear energy in
an effective manner
There are lots of other interesting things to be learnt about
nuclear power plants regarding their working, layout, processes and so forth
which we shall do in later articles in this series.