Some of you might have been in an argument about nuclear power, whether it is a good method to produce energy or rather a detrimental one. We found this topic very captivating but confusing, so we tried to get to grips with it. Before we start our presentation we would like to ask you a question to test your attitude towards the usage of nuclear energy, in Dutch known as kernenergie. Please close your eyes, in this way the answers will be more trustable. Raise your hand if you approve nuclear energy. Now, raise your hand if you disapprove nuclear power. (more people disapprove). Apparently, nuclear power evokes rather negative connotations with most of you. This energy source might be the most feared and misunderstood source available, but researches concluded that its unique advantages weigh against its disadvantages. They wondered whether they could take nuclear reactors and make them better by innovation. Before Ka Wai tells you more about the innovations the researchers established, I will first provide some background information.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the production of power mainly depended on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil. After the Second World War, governments had to cope with a considerable increase of power consumption induced by demographic growth, urbanization, industrialization and increased standard of living. Until 1970, production growth had been ensured by building power plants using coal and oil. However, Earth’s shortage of these fossil resources and the increasing world energy demand triggered governments’ interest to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and pursue a new source of energy.
Climate change is another case that provoked the governments’ consideration of alternative, sustainable energy sources. The problem of the power plants using the primary generation sources, which are coal and liquid gasoline, is that when you burn these fossil fuels they release CO2 in the air. These huge amounts of CO2 that are being pumped into the atmosphere cause heating, and that heating is changing the world before our eyes.
Nuclear energy had been realized; today’s vital carbon-free energy source which is the only viable option to solving the increasing energy needs. In the early 1970s, when war in the middle east caused the oil prices to skyrocket worldwide, nuclear power became a favourable energy source. Now, commercial interest and investment picked up at a dazzling pace. More than half of all the nuclear reactors in the world were built between 1970 and 1985.
The first nuclear reactor, which we still use nowadays, is the light water reactor. Let me explain how it works. The basic principle is shockingly simple: it heats up water using an artificial chain reaction. Nuclear fission releases several million times more energy than any chemical reactions could. Heavy elements like uranium get bombarded with neutrons. Most of the time, it immediately splits into fast-moving lighter elements, some additional free neutrons, and energy in the form of radiation. The radiation caused by the chain reaction heats the surrounding water, which generates steam that powers a turbine and makes electricity. All without emitting CO2. In this light water reactor, a moderator is needed to control the neutron’s energy. Simple, ordinary water does the job, which is very practical, since water’s used to drive the turbines anyway.