Nuclear power is a technology which extracts usable energy from atomic nuclei via controlled nuclear reactions – normally atomic fission. One day fusion may be possible but until thenm as stated, the only method in use today is through nuclear fission. Another method which one day may be possible is radioactive decay. All reactors used to provide domestic and commercial energy today, heat water to produce high pressure steam which is then used to power turbines which in turn produce the power we so urgently need. In 2007, 14% of the world’s electricity came from nuclear power. More than 150 nuclear-powered naval vessels have been built, and a few radioisotope rockets have been produced.
As of 2005, nuclear power provided 2.1% of the world’s energy and 15% of the world’s electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for 56.5% of nuclear generated electricity. As of 2007, the IAEA reported there are 439 nuclear power reactors in operation in the world, operating in 31 countries.
Reductions and “unusual outage”
In 2007, nuclear power’s share of global electricity generation dropped to 14%. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the main reason for this was an earthquake in western Japan on 16 July 2007, which shut down all seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. There were also several other reductions and “unusual outages” experienced in Korea and Germany. Also, increases in the load factor for the current fleet of reactors appear to have plateaued. The further reduction of nuclear power is likely because of fears over safety but increasing knowledge and superior construction materials help to combat these fears.
How the process works
In a nuclear-fuelled power plant – much like a fossil-fuelled power plant – water is turned into steam, which drives turbine generators to produce electricity. The difference between the two is the heat source. Nuclear power produces electricity by splitting uranium atoms which generate phenomenal heat. This is called fission. This heat is used to create the steam which powers the generators. There is no combustion in a nuclear reactor, just the constant splitting of atoms which produces manageable heat. This is how the process works.
There are two types of nuclear reactors:
Pressurized Water Reactor
PWR´s – Pressurized Water Reactors keep water under pressure so that it heats, but does not boil. This heated water is circulated through special stainless steel pipes tubes in steam generators, allowing the water in the steam generators to turn to steam, which then turns the turbine generator. Water from the reactor and the water that is turned into steam are in separate systems and do not mix.
Boiling Water Reactor
In Boiling Water Reactors (also known as BWRs), water heated by fission actually boils, turning to steam and powering the turbine generators. In both PWRs and BWRs, the steam is then condensed back into water to be used again.
The first time electricity was generated by a nuclear reactor was on December 20, 1951 at the EBR-I experimental station near Arco, Idaho, which initially produced about 100 kW (the Arco Reactor was also the first to experience partial meltdown, in 1955).
The United States produces the most nuclear energy, with nuclear power providing 19% of the electricity it consumes. In Europe France produces the highest percentage of its electrical energy from nuclear reactors—currently 78% as of 2009 and exports much of this to Britain, Spain and Portugal. In the European Union as a whole, nuclear energy provides 30% of the electricity consumed.
Regardless of which type of reactor is used to generate heat, the conditions under which they do are extremely hostile, calling for the finest stainless steel pipes and tubing able to deal with constantly high pressures and temperatures.
The necessity of stainless steel pipes
Many nuclear power stations are situated on the coast and use sea water for cooling which again calls for special piping resistant to the corrosiveness of salt water. Stainless steel pipe and tubes when manufactured to the required standards are more than adequate for the long, harsh duty cycles required when utilised in a reactor environment.
Today, nuclear power is only possible by virtue of the superb qualities of the construction materials available and none are more important than the stainless steel pipes which carry steam at high pressure and high temperatures which make the operation of the electricity producing turbines possible.