View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter – data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Analysis
May 14, 2019updated 18 Jun 2020 1:42pm

What is a nuclear power station?

What is a nuclear power station, how does it create energy and what really are the benefits? Jack Unwin finds out.

By Jack Unwin

As well as being the unwilling workplace of Homer Simpson, the nuclear power station is the breeding ground of civil nuclear power across the world. According to the World Nuclear Association nuclear power forms about 11% of the world’s electricity, with 450 reactors providing 424GW of power, making it the second largest source of low-carbon power in the world.

Free Report
img

Delve into the renewable energy prospects for Morocco

In its new low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission strategy to 2050, submitted to the United Nations (UN), the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development (MEM) of Morocco suggested to raise the share of renewable capacity in the country’s total power installed capacity mix to 80%.   Morocco currently aims to increase the share of renewables in total power capacity to 52% by 2030. The new strategy plans to increase the share of renewable capacity to 70% by 2040 and 80% by 2050.  GlobalData’s expert analysis delves into the current state and potential growth of the renewable energy market in Morocco. We cover: 
  • The 2020 target compared to what was achieved 
  • The 2030 target and current progress 
  • Energy strategy to 2050 
  • Green hydrogen 
  • Predictions for the way forward  
Download the full report to align your strategies for success and get ahead of the competition.   
by GlobalData
Enter your details here to receive your free Report.

How does a nuclear power station work exactly? And what are the benefits and perils of nuclear power?

How nuclear energy is made

Nuclear plants are different to energy plants such as coal and natural gas, because despite being a thermal generation process they do not need to burn anything to create steam.

In a nuclear plant, uranium atoms are split in a process called fission, which requires low-enriched uranium fuel. Uranium fuel is formed into pellets, one of which can produce as much energy as one tonne of coal, three barrels of oil or 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. These pellets are generally stacked into 12-foot metal fuel rods, which are grouped together in bundles that are called fuel assemblies.

Thanks to nuclear fission, heat and neutrons are released from uranium as the atoms split. The neutrons hit other uranium atoms causing them to split, continuing the cycle. Meanwhile, the released heat causes water within the reactor to boil, which in turn creates the steam that powers the turbines, which powers the generators to make electricity.

Types of nuclear reactors

There are two standard types of nuclear reactor, firstly boiling water reactors (BWR), which simply heat up water until it boils to spin turbines and generate electricity. Secondly, pressurised water reactors (PWR), which heat up water to close to boiling point before this water is pumped into a separate supply of water. In this compartment, it becomes steam that is used to powers a turbine.

Pros and cons of nuclear power

As nuclear power does not need to burn anything to create steam it does not emit greenhouse gases like methane or CO2. Once a nuclear plant is up and running, the electricity it produces is inexpensive due to the low cost of uranium. Unlike wind and solar, nuclear is a consistent, reliable source of energy, which can run uninterrupted for up to a year.

However, the initial cost of building a nuclear plant is steep. A recent versatile test reactor (VTR) project in Idaho is estimated to initially cost between $3.9 and $6bn and $550-850m every year for seven years. This is much more than the initial $3.5bn estimate given by Idaho National Laboratory head Kemal Pasamehmetoglu. While the running cost over seven years is itself more than the 2019 budget for the Department of Energy’s entire nuclear technology development program, which sits at $740m. A similar story is true around the world, with reactors often coming in over budget and delayed.

Nuclear plants, like all thermal generation, produce waste.  However unlike other waste streams as it is radioactive. But 97% of the waste produced is considered low- or intermediate-level waste, and as such is easily disposed of. The nuclear industry produces 34,000m³ of high-level waste globally a year, but counter to what many people believe, it does not take forever to degrade. It is generally stored in interim storage facilities, where within just forty years its radioactivity levels decrease to one-thousandth of the level.

Finally, the potential for disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima is a constant concern when considering nuclear power. Both had devastating effects upon their environments and the communities close by. However it is important to remember that together with Three Mile Island, they are the only major incidents in over 17,000 cumulative reactor-years of commercial nuclear power operation in 33 countries. 

Related Companies

Free Report
img

Delve into the renewable energy prospects for Morocco

In its new low greenhouse gas (GHG) emission strategy to 2050, submitted to the United Nations (UN), the Ministry of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development (MEM) of Morocco suggested to raise the share of renewable capacity in the country’s total power installed capacity mix to 80%.   Morocco currently aims to increase the share of renewables in total power capacity to 52% by 2030. The new strategy plans to increase the share of renewable capacity to 70% by 2040 and 80% by 2050.  GlobalData’s expert analysis delves into the current state and potential growth of the renewable energy market in Morocco. We cover: 
  • The 2020 target compared to what was achieved 
  • The 2030 target and current progress 
  • Energy strategy to 2050 
  • Green hydrogen 
  • Predictions for the way forward  
Download the full report to align your strategies for success and get ahead of the competition.   
by GlobalData
Enter your details here to receive your free Report.

NEWSLETTER Sign up Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. The top stories of the day delivered to you every weekday. A weekly roundup of the latest news and analysis, sent every Wednesday. The power industry's most comprehensive news and information delivered every month.
I consent to GlobalData UK Limited collecting my details provided via this form in accordance with the Privacy Policy
SUBSCRIBED

THANK YOU

Thank you for subscribing to Power Technology