It is common knowledge that nuclear energy is generated from uranium, however, the exact process of the working of nuclear energy is still not known to many of the people and that is why, there is always some fascination towards nuclear energy and people view it with skepticism as well.
There is a growing debate around the world whether nuclear energy is safe or not and after the recent radiation from the nuclear power plants in Japan after the earthquake this debate has grown stronger and stronger because the majority of the people are thinking that the nuclear energy is not safe.
Whether it is safe or not can only be decided after you find out the answer to the question how does nuclear energy work.
Below we have explained the working of the nuclear energy in a simple terms as possible.
How does nuclear energy work?
As we have mentioned above, the fuel which is used for the generation of nuclear energy is known as uranium, it is a natural mineral which is formed from the surface of the earth but it is very rare.
In order to get uranium to produce nuclear energy, industry grade uranium is required which is even more rare and pure in form. One of the largest producers of uranium in the world is Australia.
If you’re thinking that nuclear energy is just use in the defence industry then you are wrong because it is widely used in the medical field as well as the power generation feel. There are a lot of countries all over the world and even the developed countries which are widely making the use of the nuclear energy rather than other forms of energy.
Some of the most notable countries which are making the use of nuclear energy around the world are France, the United States, Australia, Japan, India, China.
These countries are using the nuclear energy, both for the defence purposes as well as the civilian purposes as well. The main reason why the nuclear reactors even for the civilian purposes are faced with such large opposition as well is because whenever you are using the uranium in the nuclear reactor, the byproduct of the entire process is weapons grade plutonium which can be used to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Actual process of producing nuclear energy:
Nuclear energy is basically generated with the help of the process known as nuclear fission. In this process, the atom of a mineral such as uranium is split and this mineral is actually very heavy and therefore when the nucleus of such a mineral is split a large amount of energy is released.
This energy is then used to turn the turbines will generate the electricity. You might have already noticed that the process is similar to that of a normal electricity generating plant which uses the fossil fuels as a source of fuel.
Not all of the atoms can split and this process can only be done on materials whose atoms are fissionable and these are very limited materials and very rare as well because not all types of uranium ore plutonium can be used because they are not fissionable. Only some of the isotopes can be used.
In order to trigger the fission process these materials are bombarded with neutrons and whenever the nucleus of the atom absorbs these neutrons it becomes unstable and splits into two different nuclei which ever different structure as compared to the original atom.
The bombardment of the neutrons needs to be controlled precisely to ensure that the reaction does not get out of hand since you only have two bombard the neutrons at a very fast speed so that they are able to penetrate the nucleus.
The uranium which is fissionable is produced in the form of pellets and this is placed in the rods inside the nuclear reactor and this is bombarded with the neutrons.
During the breakup of the current atom went two new uranium nuclei are generated, there is also a release of neutrons and therefore only the initial bombardment of neutrons is needed and later on they go on accelerating with the help of the breakup of the uranium atom. That is why, it is important that you keep the reaction controlled. This is how the chain reaction takes place.
The heat which is generated during the process of the breakup of the uranium atom is transferred to the turbines with the help of the gas or liquid which constantly circulates the area of the core in which the chain reaction is taking place.
Stopping of the chain reaction:
As you might have noticed that there is a chain reaction whenever there is bombardment of neutrons on the atoms of uranium but it is very important to stop this chain reaction otherwise things would go out of hand. A prime example of this is Chernobyl.
In order to stop the chain reaction, there are rods which are placed inside the code reactor which absorb the neutrons which are generated and thereby slowing down the chain reaction and ultimately stopping the chain reaction. These rods are made of materials like cadmium or boron.
Also, there is another redundant system which can be used in case the rods fail due to some reason. This is done by adding a liquid which can absorb the neutrons and this is usually water or graphite.
Safeguard around the core reactor:
Considering if both of these measures failed to stop the reaction, the core reactor in each and every nuclear plant is surrounded by a strong structure on all sides so that the radioactive reaction is not able to spread into the outside environment. This structure is made of concrete as well as steel.
Replacement of fuel:
You might be thinking that the uranium which is inside the rods might need some replacement and you are right as well but this replacement is needed every one or two years and then the rods are opened and the replacement is done.
Even after one or two years, only a part of the rods needs a replacement and the other chunks of uranium are fine.
So, now you would be able to understand how nuclear energy is produced.