Nuclear Power Dissertation

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The Potential for Indigenous Power Generation From Below the Ground for Nuclear Energy

This is a brief content analysis of the potential of nuclear power in UK. We are greatly concerned with nuclear power and some of its renewable alternatives. We shall discuss how Nuclear energy contributes as one of the components used to supply electricity in the UK and in other countries. We will also take a look at some of the pros and cons of nuclear power. Is there a way to dispose of its waste products? If so then what are the levels of nuclear waste products and how do they affect the environment. The essay also has an extensive coverage of the technologies as is compared to dimensions found to characterize energy issues (environmental, economic, technological, psychological risks and future/political). We also take a look at how the last four decades has seen the world come a long way in learning how to dispose nuclear waste, how to release nuclear energy, how to make use of it and how to control it. We also take a look at the theoretical comparison of all costs and benefits arising from alternative development patterns and which one would be the ideal method to use while estimating the potential role of nuclear power in meeting electric energy requirements in UK/oversea countries. In addition, we have defined both reactors Magnox and AGR noting in particular that some of the environments are in areas ‘threatened’ with the potential sitting of a new nuclear power station and that in ‘unaffected’ areas. In a more in depth perspective, we find that nuclear power was evaluated as alternatively positive and overwhelmingly negative. Further discussions of this pattern in particular showed a degree of consistency irrespective of the dimension of evaluation. These findings are related to people’s attitudes towards nuclear power, and the growth of antinuclear feeling from environmentalists and other sectors. In general, we have broadly discussed how nuclear power as the expansion programme with the least cost would definitely yield maximum net benefits. Though this fact if debatable, it has yet to be proven otherwise as nuclear power is sourced as a carbon free source of energy.

Introduction

Nuclear energy is a one of the most highly concentrated energy available that is made accessible by nuclear reactors. It is low carbon, dependable, affordable energy that also increase the diversity of energy supply. It was clearly stated in the Nuclear White paper in 2008 that the along other carbon sources, the nuclear power stations also have to play their vital role in country’s better energy development. The energy produced by the fission process is being generated in nuclear power stations. This energy is also produced by the splitting of uranium atoms in nuclear reactor. 50 million times energy is produced and generated in this process as compared to the carbon consumption. Total 441 powers stations are producing and generating nuclear power in a capacity of 375GW in all around the world (Meeting Energy Demand).

The constructive possibilities of uranium were identified some time back during the development of nuclear energy, even as plans were being made to release nuclear energy explosively. The post war decade was mostly dominated by the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons. In the mid 1950s engineers and scientists started harnessing nuclear power for other purposes that mostly involved peace. This prospect looked brighter and brighter. A surge of euphoric predictions that was there in the aftermath of the two nuclear explosions in Japan ended the 2nd world war. The atomic power is considered so powerful that it could run a car on an engine that was the size of a fist (Walter C Patterson, 1982).

It’s also considered powerful enough to keep ‘atom powered’ aircrafts aloft for an indefinite period. People who understood the powers of nuclear energy choose to be more realistic and choose applications for nuclear development that would lead to development rather than fiction (Popular Mechanics, 1957, pg. 258).

The term atomic energy originated back in 1903. It is energy produced by atoms or from a nuclear reaction.

Uranium ores are very economical recoverable concentrations of uranium found in the earth’s crust. Uranium is one of the most common elements present in the earths crust. Uranium ores are even more common that both gold and silver (Enrico Fermi 1938). Uranium ores can be found in rivers, oceans, rocks and in the soil.

It’s important to note that when dealing with nuclear atoms, energy is only released when there is a change in an atom’s nucleus. There are two types of nuclear change namely nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Large atoms in nuclear fission are split into two so as to release energy. New elements are often formed as a result of nuclear fission reactions. There is always loss of mass during nuclear fission. This is because the missing matter has been converted into energy that can be used to generate electricity. Uranium is one of the isotopes used to start nuclear fission chain reactions (Michael A. Seeds & Dana E. Backman, 2010, pp 119).

Nuclear fusion when a new element is formed. It often occurs in small atoms such as hydrogen. It has the capability of releasing much greater amounts of energy as compared to nuclear fission. Nuclear fusion reaction is also referred to as thermonuclear reaction. A great example of such energy can be found on the sun where hydrogen atoms join together to create a new element known as helium. This type of reaction not only releases energy, but also light, heat and radiation. The hydrogen bomb is also another great example of nuclear fusion energy (Joseph A. Angelo, 2004, pp. 156).

In general, nuclear fusion energy has with time proved to be among the countries cleanest energy source (Jonathan Fildes, 2005). The only disadvantage it has is that it’s hard to control nuclear fusion reaction. If this can be achieved, then there would be enough time for governments and organizations to set up energy plants to supply to the large population.

History of Nuclear Power in the UK

The economical issue surrounding energy varied in the ensuing years as the cost of coal increased, while that of oil remained low. The balance remained uncertain as some of the nuclear costs increased. Public concern started building up in the late 1960s as attention was drawn to problems arising from the large scale use of fuels. This included the air pollution from the burning of oil and coal, ecological damage from surface mining and health hazards from underground coal mining. The increase of oil prices in the late 1960s plus the increasingly uneasy labour relations in the coal field increased the attraction towards the use of nuclear power. This factor tentatively and gradually accelerated industrial commitment to nuclear power. It also accelerated nuclear component of the total electricity output (Roy M Harrison & R E Hester, 2011).

The availability of nuclear energy saw electricity supply systems lessens their dependency on coal while governments reduced their dependence on petroleum exporting countries. Generation of electricity using nuclear power obviously seemed as the best alternative. Coal and oil were seen as irreplaceable raw materials for the chemical industry that should be reserved. Meanwhile nuclear energy was to be used to generate electricity which was seen as a premium form of energy that is high grade, clean and versatile at the point of use. The use of energy worldwide continued to rapidly rise as more and more people were exposed to the use of technology. Experts predicted that the worldwide consumption per person would grow to be twice as that used. Glasstone (1979) argued that this energy would only be provided by some 4000 clusters of nuclear power stations with each cluster having enough reactors to produce at least five times the output of the largest power station today. This requirement of high energy for use by humans thus made the future role of nuclear energy very crucial. This created the vigorous growth of nuclear capabilities since all these energy requirements had to be met (Walter C Patterson, 1982).

The civil nuclear power programme in the UK grew out during the post – war military imperative that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK only had two plutonium producing reactors known as the Windscale piles. They started work in 1947 under a labor government (Rebecca Morelle, 2007).

The reactor’s design comprised of a large composite clock of graphite which ran horizontal cooling holes into the uranium metal fuel. The reactor core was enclosed into a concrete box that provided a biological shield, and was cooled by air that was blown into it through powerful pumps. There were chimneys capped with filters that were used to discharge the heated air. It was later realized that changing the design would allow the heat to generate steam that would later drive the turbines to produce plutonium and electricity. This resulted in three major changes in the design which saw an increase in the heat removal capability. It was a very important step to increase thermal efficiency so that the conventional steam turbines could be used effectively. The second changes saw a move away from using air as a cooling agent. It was necessary since the major component of air is nitrogen, and in its compressed form would prove to be too great a neutron absorber for the reactors to operate with natural uranium. In its place, carbon dioxide was chosen since it’s a more reasonable heat transfer medium which has lower neutron absorption. The third and final change made was to use magnesium alloys to clad uranium bars and engineer them into the cladding radial cooling fins. This design led to the generic name of Magnox for the reactor type (Thomas Telford, 1995).

In August 1953, work on the construction of Calder Hall began. The plant was later opened by Queen Elizabeth in October 1956. This was almost 14 years down the line since the first man-made reactor was assembled by Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. The opening of Calder Hall was greatly appreciated since the country was experiencing oil and petrol rationings. This was a remarkable solution to the current shortage of energy that the country was experiencing (Thomas Telford, 1993).

Social and Environmental Issues

There was a turbulent period experienced in the UK from the 1990 – 2006. This was because a lot of nuclear fortunes were seen to rise and emerge from ruins. Some of the events were self made while others were entirely as a result of outside developments. There were a lot of personalities involved in the development of this industry. They did this by developing the philosophical and political rationale for privatizing the industry. Most of these personalities made the industry more competitive while others provided the determination and energy to drive the industry side through to floatation. There were very many fundamental changes in almost every dimension that greatly affected nuclear power in the UK in way or another. Some of the phases include

  • World oil prices leap 100%, gas prices soar, electricity market prices recover
  • Weakening pool prices
  • British Energy in crisis seeks government aid
  • Market introduction – the pool
  • Dash for gas
  • Break-up of the nationalized electricity industry
  • Gas linkage to Europe
  • Major external companies act as predators on smaller UK companies
  • Strengthening pool prices
  • Privatization of British Energy

(Adrian Ham & Robert Hal, 2006)

Nuclear Waste Disposal

This is by far one of the most controversial topics that will continue to haunt generations to come (Robert C. Williams and Cantelon, P 1980). This is because a clear cut solution has not yet been formulated on how to properly dispose of some of the nuclear end products such as radioactive waste. Radioactive waste is the gaseous, liquid or solid waste produced by nuclear fuel production, nuclear power stations, nuclear plant decommissioning and weapons manufacturer and reprocessing of spent fuel. There are three basic types in which wastes are categorized. This is according to the type and the amount of radioactivity it contains. They include:

  1. LLW (Low level waste): this consisted of lightly contaminated paper towels, clothing and laboratory glass ware. Land allocated for such type of disposals should be restricted for at least 300 years to allow for the radioactivity to wear out.
  2. ILW (Intermediate Level Waste): they consist of heavily contaminated material such as parts of decommissioned reactors, used fuel rod casing and used ion exchange resins. Disposal of this level of waste products requires heavy shielding so as not to expose any living thing to some of the harms caused by radioactivity.
  3. HLW (High Level waste): this consists of highly radioactive reprocessing liquor and spent nuclear fuel: this is the most radioactive and concentrated of all the three categories. Wastes of this intensity therefore require intense radioactive decay processes where a large amount of heat is generated so as to facilitate the decay of the waste products (Royal Society of Chemistry, 1999)

Potential of Nuclear Power in the UK

Although the nuclear power industry can employ people directly at power stations, in the bigger picture this can boost the economy and businesses locally and throughout the supply chain. It is estimated that 56,000 jobs are dependent on the UK civil nuclear within the UK alone. Many more thousands of jobs will be created if more power stations are proposed and created.

Most of the UKs current nuclear plants are due to close by 2023. To maintain the current flow of nuclear power in the energy it is estimated 10 million kilowatts (kW) of new nuclear capacity will needed to be added to the UK’s supply. This works out to be about six to eight new nuclear plants being built. Due to UK having gained nuclear experience both in Britain and abroad, UK is in a position to take advantage of these opportunities.

In a study it was indicated that British industry could potentially have 70% of the skilled workforces necessary within Britain already. EDF is already investing in training. Edf is working hard to train more people to be necessarily skilled for working at the nuclear power stations. EDF are proposing to open 4, which they will secure 700 permanent and 200 contract positions for more than 60 years. (EDF energy.com). Below is an image showing EDF’s current nuclear sites.

Future developments of nuclear energy prospects saw various programmes launched as competition costs between other fossil fuels increased. One of the programmes launched was the ‘Programme of nuclear power”, government established white paper in February 1955. Some of the things proposed included

  • The construction of a twin reactor power station. This was to be started in mid 1957 and to be operated in 1960 – 1961
  • Construction of a further twin reactor power station that was of the same design as the latter but more improved in terms of performance. It was to start in 1958 – 1959 and start operations in 1963.
  • A construction of four other power stations that were envisaged as being a developed design.

 (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2011)

Currently, close to one sixth of UK’s electricity is generated by nuclear power. This is done utilizing 16 operational nuclear reactors at 9 plants. You should note that out of this nuclear reactors, there are 14 advanced gas cooled reactors, one pressurized water reactor and one Magnox. This show how much the UK greatly relies on nuclear power so as to produce energy. This also brings out the huge capability of nuclear energy as a potential force that the UK can’t live without. Picture the country without at least one sixth of a power source. This would be disastrous for not only the countries economy, but also on its development. Nuclear power in the country has also shown tremendous signs of growing and producing an even bigger share of UK’s power source. This will also be heavily facilitated by the fact that the government gave the go-ahead to permit private suppliers to construct up a total of 8 new power plants. This was done back in October 2010. The only set back experienced was that some few member countries refused to back this proposal and therefore refuted the construction of any nuclear power on their soil. One of these countries was Scotland. However with the groundwork already started in several areas, there is simply no stopping the momentum made to increase UK’s reliance on energy generated from nuclear energy (Manasi Karkare, 2008).

Nuclear power is not only an alternative source of energy that is clean, but it’s also a cost effective way to produce power (Felix A Ferrit, 2006). The UK stands to benefit greatly through any findings our of nuclear power research. However, there are some few problems that need to be addressed before this can be achieved. They include:

  • Nuclear waste disposals
  • Nuclear power use and control (I.e. weapons of mass destruction)

Tony Blair (2006) argued during his speech at the CBI annual dinner that once these two issues are addressed, the country can march forward and explore other potential advantages that they can get from nuclear power. Otherwise, they have no choice but to stall any development since each move should be monitored to ensure whether it’s constructive or destructive. These issues bring out to light the fact that this country still has a very long way to go because we have yet to achieve any mature technology that can handle such immense potential of power. There is no need for alarm since there are several proposals being brought forward to help improve the sector (Patrick Wintour & David Adam, 2006).

Even though its waste products are harmful to the environment, it’s still wise to say that nuclear power has the capability to become the largest source of carbon free electricity. This however can only be achieved if the country steps up its current economy and meets its carbon targets. This source of energy is also seen as a way out of global warming and meet UK’s target on reducing emissions of gases responsible for this. It’s assumed that using nuclear power will help the country attain its ambitious target of cutting emissions by 80%. The concentration of the government on this source of energy has with time proven that nuclear power has the potential of also undermining any other attempts of finding a cleaner, greener, secure and more sustainable source of energy. This fact can be blamed on the heavy reliance of the country on nuclear power to produce their electricity (Making It, 2011).

Currently UK has 17 reactors that generate about 19% of its electricity. The country has a number of full fuel cycle facilities that include major reprocessing plants. The shut down of some of the power plants has greatly reduced the power contribution from nuclear plants that were experienced back in the 90’s.

Below is a table of nuclear reactors operating in the UK

Plant

Type Present Capacity (MWe net) First Power

Expected Shutdown

Wylfa 1 Magnox 490 1971 Sep 2014
Dungeness B1 & 2 AGR 2×545 1983 and 1985 2018
Hartlepool 1 & 2 AGR 2×595 1983 and 1984 2019
Heysham I – 1 & I – 2 AGR 2×580 1983 and 1984 2019
 Heysham II-1 & II – 2 AGR 2×615 1988 2013
Hinkley Point B 1 & 2 AGR 2×610 (but operates at 70% 430 – MWe) 1976 2016
Hunterston B 1 & 2 AGR 2×610 (but operates at 70% 430 – MWe) 1976 and 1977 2016
Torness 1 & 2 AGR 2×625 1988 and 1989 2023
Sizewell B PWR 1188 1995 2035
Total: 16 units 10038 MWe

(World Nuclear Org)

Magnox: currently, it’s one of the obsolete types of nuclear reactors which was designed and still is in use in the UK. The name Magnox originates from the alloy used o clad the fuel rods found inside the reactor. They are carbon dioxide cooled, pressurized, graphite moderated reactors that use Magnox alloy as fuel cladding and natural uranium as fuel. The design for the civilian Magnox power station was created with on-load refueling as a consideration since the government wanted to maximize the power station’s availability by eliminating refueling downtime.

Nuclear Power Dissertation
Nuclear Power Dissertation

AGR (Advanced Gas-cooled reactor): this is a type of nuclear reactor that uses carbon dioxide as coolants and graphite as moderators. It was developed from the Magnox reactor requiring stainless steel fuel cladding to withstand high temperatures and operating at a much higher gas temperature for improved thermal efficiency. Enriched uranium fuel is needed due to the fact that the stainless steel fuel cladding has a higher neutron capture cross section than Magnox fuels (World Nuclear Org).

Conclusion

Nuclear power as a sustainable source of power has yet to be fully explored in terms of its prospective. There is no lucid motive about the Fukushima events’ impact on the development of the nuclear power industry internationally as well as national. However, logically protection will be highlighted on the schema. Since nuclear power is one of the most important entity all around the globe, but UK efforts to maintain its carbon emission level and increasing demands for energy supplies. To develop nuclear energy, the government, semi government and private/public authorities, operators, and contractors must have to consider the importance of developing nuclear energy by focusing on it as an industry. They should measure up the safe and improve the nuclear energy development at industrial levels. The UK Government has pressurized the third party liability on operators, industrial contractors, and suppliers, due to which they are well experienced to increase intention towards industrial development of nuclear energy. To meet with liabilities and demands, the UK companies are in a state to take improvement of these opportunities as they have attained nuclear skills in Europe as well as on international levels. In 2009, a research done by the NIA (Nuclear Industry Association) demonstrated that British industry could better supply the experienced labor force obligatory to manufacture and preserve a new nuclear armada. The industry of nuclear power hires workers openly on industrial levels and can enhance the cutback and businesses in the vicinity and right through the supply procession. Anticipated thousands of jobs are reliant on the national nuclear industry in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, several jobs would be increasing during the building and maneuver of projected innovative nuclear power stations. Opportunities included the mechanized of apparatus, site setting up, preservation, servicing, plan, and engineering mentoring, authorized and monetary services, and jobs on position once the power stations are prepared. The UK’s existing nuclear plants are schedule to end up their operations in 2003. Just to sustain the current divide up of nuclear power in the energy combine about 10 million kW of new nuclear plants which are in progress.

2003 Energy White Paper

The Government’s Energy White Paper, published in 2003 and titled “Our Energy Future – Creating a Low Carbon Economy” concluded that:

Nuclear power is currently an important source of carbon-free electricity. However, its current economics make it an unattractive option for new, carbon-free generating capacity and there are also important issues of nuclear waste to be resolved. These issues include our legacy waste and continued waste arising from other sources. This white paper does not contain specific proposals for building new nuclear power stations. However we do not rule out the possibility that at some point in the future new nuclear build might be necessary if we are to meet our carbon targets.

Bibliography

Angelo A Joseph. (2004). Nuclear Power Technology. Westport (Connecticut); London: Greenwood Press. pp. 156-300.

BBC (2010) News Politics 2010 [Online] Nuclear power: Eight sites identified for future plants.

EDF energy (2012). What nuclear power energy means for UK economy.

Everett Bob et al. (2011). Energy Systems and Sustainability nuclear power for a sustainable future. Oxford: oxford university press. pp 395 – 455.

Fildes Jonathan. (2005). Science & Environment 2012 [Online] Man-made star to unlock cosmic secrets.

Ham Adrian & Hal Robert. (2006). A Way Forward For Nuclear Power. 2006 Energy Review Submission.

Harrabin Roger (2012) Treasury messing with UK clean energy policy, say MPs.

Joy. D.S. & Jenkins. R.T. (1974). Wien Automatic System Planning Package (WASP): An Electric Utility Optima Generation Expansion Planning Computer Code. Washington, D.C: Ernst & Whinney.

Karkare Manasi. (2008). Nanotechnology: Fundamentals and Applications. pp. 104.

Mark Tran (2007) The Guardian (London)[Online] Government nuclear power talks pointless, say green groups.

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Making It. (2011). [Online] Is nuclear power necessary for a carbon-free future?

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Royal Society of Chemistry. (2011). Nuclear power and the environment. Cambridge: RSC Publishing. pp. 8.

Seeds A Michael. & Backman E Dana. (2010). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole. 11th ed. pp. 119.

Telford Thomas. (1995). Radiation Dose Management in The Nuclear Power Industry: Proceedings Of The Conference Organized By The British Nuclear Energy Society And Held In Windermere, Cumbria. London: the society. pp. 65.

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2007 [Online] Available at; Energy White Paper Supporting Documents, Department of Trade and Industry

2007 [Online] Available at; The Future of Nuclear Power: Consultation Document, Department of Trade and Industry

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Patrick Wintour & David Adam. (2006) The Guardian. Blair presses the nuclear button.

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Steve Jones

My name is Steve Jones and I’m the creator and administrator of the dissertation topics blog. I’m a senior writer at study-aids.co.uk and hold a BA (hons) Business degree and MBA, I live in Birmingham (just moved here from London), I’m a keen writer, always glued to a book and have an interest in economics theory.

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