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what is a nuclear power plant? (principle, component and applications)

May 4, 2018
what is a nuclear power plant? (principle, component and applications)

What is a nuclear power plant?

What is a nuclear power plant or Nuclear power station it’s a thermal power station in which we use uranium as a fuel or we use a nuclear reactor as a heat source, and as known about thermal power stations we use heat to generate steam which used to drive a steam turbine connected to an electrical generator that produced the electricity.

what is a nuclear power Plant

Nuclear power plants are a base load station and they are usually designed near water sources to remove the heat produced by the reactor.

And there are about four hundred nuclear plants around the world, but the high percentage is in the United Stade, Japan, France, Russia, and China.

Nuclear power plant working principle:

To understand what is a nuclear power plant we should deep in the working principle of the nuclear power plant which is very simple; as the atoms spilled apart to smaller atoms in the nuclear fission which takes place inside the power plant reactor.

And there is a  uranium fuel in the core at the center of the reactor; the uranium formed into ceramic pellets and each pellet produces the same amount of energy equals to 150 gallons of oil.

Nuclear power plant working principle

And we use the heat produced during the fission to boil water into steam; then we use this steam to turn steam turbine blades, in turn.

The electric generator turns to produce electricity.

After that, the steam is cooled back into a water at the cooling tower and we can reuse this water corresponding to the Rankine cycle.

Nuclear power plant diagram:

What is a nuclear power plant? it’s the main question we ask every time to make us concentrate.

And the line diagram is the best heeding which would help us as the nuclear power plant consists of four main components each have subdivided component and has its special function; let’s see:

  • Nuclear reactor:

It’s the main component of the plant; it’s a cylindrical shape where the heavy isotope uranium is used as a nuclear fuel.

And this reactor is enclosed by reactor core; the reflector; and thermal shielding which makes the ability to control the chain reaction in the reactor is high.

Nuclear reactor

And the nuclear reactor consists of fuel rods of uranium which made of the fission materials and released a large amount of energy.

A moderator which maintains the chain reaction by releasing the neutrons in a suitable manner before mixing with fissile materials, and control rods which made of boron-10 and cadmium.

And the nuclear reactor classified into:

Types of nuclear reactors:

There are mainly three types of nuclear reactors which are:

  1. Civilian reactors: which usually used to generate energy for electricity and sometimes generating steam for district heating.
  2. Military reactors: which create materials used in nuclear weapons.
  3. Research reactors: it produces radioisotopes which used to develop weapons or energy production technology and for training purposes; nuclear physics experimentation; and for producing radio-isotopes for medicine or research.

And those types of reactors can also be classified according to the design to:

1- Pressurized water reactor: 

It’s the most used types in the world which uses enriched uranium as oxide form as nuclear fuel which used to heat up the water in the reactor under a high pressure to become steam and drives the turbine connected to the electric generator which generates the electric power.

Pressurized water reactor

2- Boiling water reactor:

It’s a frequently used type which also uses the enriched uranium to heat up the water in the reactor until it boils into steam to spin the turbine which in turn drives the generator to produce electricity.

Boiling water reactor


3- Pressurized heavy water reactor:

It uses the high-pressure heavy water as a refrigerant and as a neutron moderator.

The reactor core contains tank with the moderator heavy water which used to cool the fuel under high pressure.

Then the produced hot coolant goes to the steam generator to produce steam to run the turbine and the generator.

Pressurized heavy water reactor

4- Gas reactor:

In this type, we use graphite as moderator of neutrons and carbon dioxide as a refrigerant in the gaseous state.

Gas reactor

5- Light water graphite reactor:

In this type, we use ordinary water as the coolant and graphite as the moderator.

The coolant passes through the reactor to be boiled to be a steam that passes through the turbine and the generator.

Light water graphite reactor


6- Breeder reactor:

It has an excess of neutrons which are given off by fission reactions and this reactor produces the more fissionable fuel than they consume.

Breeder reactor

  • Heat exchanger:

It’s a device used to recover heat between heaters (where steam is employed to heat process fluids) and coolers (where water is added to cool the process fluids).

And the heat exchanger may consist of a tube sheet; tube bundle; head; and nozzles or consists of a shell; shell baffles; head; and nozzles.

  • Steam turbine:

A valve transfers the steam from the heat exchanger to the steam turbine where the steam expanded and causes the turbine to turn to produce mechanical energy.

After that, the steam exhausted to the condenser to condensate then feed through the feed water pump to the heat exchanger.

It consists of coils used to convert the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy which then transmitted to consumers and distribution by transformers.

And there are also some auxiliary components as:

  • Cooling tower:

It’s the most iconic symbol of the nuclear plant, it’s used to reject waste heat to the atmosphere as it transfers heat from hot water to the cooler outside air.

cooling tower

Nuclear power plant layout:

The layout of the nuclear power plant illustrates all the components of the plant and make it easy for us to know what is a nuclear power plant in a simple meaning, as it contains:

  • Reactor building.
  • Steel containment.
  • Polar crane.
  • Ice condenser.
  • Refueling machine.
  • Reactor pressure vessel.
  • Control rod drives.
  • Primary circuit.
  • Main circulation pump.
  • Main shut off valve.
  • Steam generator.
  • Tank area.
  • Laboratory building.
  • Computer room.
  • Main control room.
  • Turbo_generators.
  • Moisture separator reheater.

Nuclear power plant layout

  • Condensate purification plant.
  • Office building.
  • Demineralization plant.
  • Cooling water pumping plant.
  • Main coolant pump.
  • Demineralized water tank.
  • Switchyard.
  • Service building.
  • Ventilation stacks.
  • Auxiliary building.
  • Exhaust air conditioning center.
  • Evaporators of active water treatment plant.
  • Machine repair shop.
  • Liquid waste storage.

That’s approximately the layout of all nuclear plants, there would be some differs from a type to another and that’s what you need to know about the layout of the plant.

Applications of nuclear power plant:

There is no doubt that when we need to know what is  a nuclear power plant we should search in the applications; as  this plant is mainly used to produce electricity as it’s also used in many other applications as:

  • Industrial applications: nuclear plants are used in the development and improvement of processes as measurements; automationand quality control;  and also used as a prerequisite for the complete automation of high-speed protection lines; also used in the manufacture of plastics and sterilization of disposable products.
  • Military applications (nuclear weapons): there are weapons depend on the nuclear technologies in their design like aircraft; submarines; carriers; and cruises.
  • Hydrology: nuclear techniques represented in isotopic hydrology are used to trace the movements of water in the hydrologic cycle; also we can use isotopes for investigating underground water sources and determine their origin and their recharge method.

Applications of nuclear power plant

  • Nuclear medicine: radiopharmaceuticals used radiotherapy for treatment of malignant tumors, teletherapy for oncological treatment, radiological biology that allows sterilization of medical products are all significant applications of nuclear medicine procedure.
  • Agriculture and food: isotope applications are used in developed countries to make it possible to increase agricultural production, also nuclear technologies are used in controlling insect pests, maximizing water resources, and improving crop varieties.
  • Environmental applications: as the electron beam treatment help in reducing the environmental and health consequences of the large-scale use of fossil fuel, and also help in solving problems as the greenhouse effect and acid rain.

Nuclear power plant location:

Location is the main consideration we look for to know what is a nuclear power plant as it helps in designing the nuclear plant while it needs a large amount of space for the construction, fuel and waste storage, and computing facilities, and there are many nuclear plants around the world as:

  • The kashiwazaki-kariwa nuclear power plant on the coast of the sea of Japan.
  • Bruce nuclear generating station located on the eastern shore of Lake Huron.
  • The Zaporizhia nuclear power plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine.
  • The Gravelines nuclear power station located near the commune of Gravelines in France.
  • The Cattenom nuclear power plant located in grand est in the Cattenom commune in France.
  • Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Omaezaki on Japan’s east coast.
  • Pickering nuclear generating station located on the Lake Ontario on Pickering.
  • The Tricastin nuclear power plant located in the south of France.
  • The Chinon nuclear power plant near France Indre et Loire.
  • Bugey nuclear power plant located in Bugey.
  • Ringhals nuclear power plant situated on the Varo Peninsula.
  • Browns Ferry nuclear power plant located on the Tennessee River.
  • Qinshan nuclear power plant in Qinshan town.
  • Nogent nuclear power plant located in the France commune of Nogent Sur Seine.
  • Isar nuclear power plant located near Isar river.

Nuclear power plant location

Those are the most common nuclear power plants used today and there are many other plants under construction and of course, there are other plants get out of the service which means that the nuclear plants occupy a large importance in producing electricity.

Advantages of nuclear power plant:

There are some advantages of the nuclear power plant as:

  • Nuclear power is a highly reliable form of energy which able to run reliably whole the day without any changes.
  • It’s a less environmentally destructive way of producing electricity because it releases fewer greenhouse and carbon emissions.
  • Also, It’s very effective for generating enormous amounts of energy as one plant can produce 2-3 GW power.
  • The nuclear fuel cost is relatively low compared to other sources so the electricity produced by these plants is quite low.
  • Also, it has a long life of between 40-60 years

Disadvantages of nuclear power plant:

As anything, we may find supporters and opponents, so some disagree with nuclear power plant because:

  • The nuclear plant wastes remain dangerously radioactive for many years which means it isn’t a safe way of generating power.
  • Also, It’s not a renewable source of energy.
  • It can also produce a long-range air pollution and water pollution.
  • Also, Costs needed to make it save are enormous.

I think now you understand what is a nuclear power plant but in the same time and according to the advantages and disadvantages, we can’t judge to use it or not but in any way you should choose the best plant according to the place and the investments you have.

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