The Nuclear Industry In Canada // By Edwin Chiu

"Fission-electric power stations are one of the leading low carbon power generation methods of producing electricity,"

how it works

“Nuclear power is the process of using nuclear reactions in an atom to release nuclear energy. The energy captured to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant”(1)

Nuclear power is considered a nonrenewable resource industry as it runs on the elements uranium and plutonium. These elements are limited but are fairly abundant on Earth. Nuclear power plants globally, have a very low-emission value worth of 12 g CO2 eq/kWh, which is the lowest compared to coal & fossil gas at 820 and 490 g CO2 eq/kWh.

Nuclear power might seem as a highly dangerous industry but has an enormous amount of benefits if used properly. “The amount of energy produced by the fission of a single uranium atom is approximately 10 million times the energy produced by the combustion of a single coal atom” (4) Meaning by itself, it can provide hundreds of years of energy because the immense power it gives with little cost in return.

Nuclear Power in Canada

Canada currently in 2016 has 19 commercial nuclear reactors, mostly located in Ontario all, provide an average of 13.5/GWe that also account for 16.5% the nation's electricity.

(Outdated map in 2005)

“They also contribute $6.6 billion per year to GDP, create C$1.5 billion in government revenue and generate some $1.2 billion in exports. The nuclear power industry employs 21,000 directly, 10,000 indirectly as contractors and is responsible for another 40,000 jobs indirectly.” (5) Nuclear power is a dangerous job but covers much of the nation’s electricity giving the industry attention to have a good salary.

Methods of Production

Nuclear power plants work in the same way as regular power plants but instead of using fossil fuels to generate heat, nuclear power plants in the nuclear reactor harnesses the energy from splitting the nucleus of an atom, typically two heavy elements like uranium and plutonium. (2)

The whole process is called nuclear fission. “Fission starts when a fast-moving neutron strikes a nucleus. The nucleus cannot take in an extra neutron so the whole nucleus breaks apart into two smaller nuclei. Several neutrons are released and go on and on. Because the first neutron sets of a chain of fission's, the nuclear reaction is called a chain reaction. Without control, it can multiply rapidly and produce an enormous amount of heat in a fraction a of a second.” (3)

The Fuel Cycle

Nuclear power starts with mining the elements uranium and plutonium. The uranium and plutonium ore is extracted and processed into its pure element. Then are used to make fuel rods in the nuclear reactor. “The fuel rods will spend about 3 operational cycles (typically 6 years total now) inside the reactor” and will be disposed after it's used. (1) Inside the nuclear reactor, fission occurs within the fuel rod and the harnessed heat is used to drive steam turbines to create electricity.

Issues/Problems

Nuclear Waste

The largest downside of Nuclear Power is its nuclear waste or spent nuclear fuel. Radioactive waste remains deadly to living organisms after its disposed but is a difficult task as it’s still toxic lasts for thousands of years. Various types of nuclear waste like Neptunium-237 have a half-life of two million years. Its waste is extremely toxic and is lethal as its rays destroy cells.

The disposal process is rather difficult as said but having a slim chance of penetrating through solid material such as concrete. But some nuclear waste is rather useful such as low-level radioactive waste that comes in the form of clothing, hand tools, and etc.

Safety

Nuclear accidents is another downside to nuclear power plants but is minimal. There are a total of 99 major nuclear disasters worldwide with Canada having 10 minor nuclear disasters that had less than 19 fatalities. Nuclear accidents have usually occurred because of faulty monitoring, faulty hardware, and leaks. “In terms of lives lost per unit of energy generated, nuclear power has caused fewer accidental deaths per unit of energy generated than all other major sources of energy generation. Energy produced by coal, petroleum, natural gas and hydro power has caused more deaths per unit of energy generated, from air pollution and energy accidents (1).

Sustainability

Process of Nuclear Fusion

A new method to create energy is nuclear fusion where the nuclei of a fuel combine and don’t break apart. Nuclear fusion occurs with smaller atoms whose nuclei contain very few protons and neutrons. To produce nuclear fusion, pairs of nuclei meet so that their protons and neutrons fuse together and become a single nucleus and a new element. A spare neutron is left over and the fused nuclei and neutrons move off at high speed, producing heat. Unlike nuclear fission, radiation is not emitted but the neutrons are harmful. To get the nuclei to meet and fuse, the atoms must be banged with tremendous force. This can only be done with temperatures millions of degrees. Nuclear fusion also powers the sun. (3)

Nuclear fusion has its benefits as it’s safer and produces less radioactive waste than fission. But the process is experimental and the reaction has a difficult process. But the research was delayed and might not happen before 2050.

Advanced Nuclear Design

Better design = less accidents. For example new designs that have a passive fail-safe feature where if a water cooler exceeds a specific temperature, electricity is cut from the heater and the system is shut down. Simply a better design would have a higher availability and longer operating life – typically 60 years, further reduced possibility of core melt accidents and higher burn-up to use fuel more fully and efficiently and reduce the amount of waste. (7)

Biography

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/apr/30/particlephysics.energy1

(3) The Way Things Work - David Macaulay

(4) http://connection.ebscohost.com/science/nuclear-power/history-nuclear-energy-production

(5) http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/canada-nuclear-power.aspx

(6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_nuclear_safety

(7) http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/nuclear-power-reactors/advanced-nuclear-power-reactors.aspx

Credits:

Created with images by 12923 - "nuclear power plant central steam" • 526663 - "coal fired power plant nuclear reactors nuclear" • GuenterRuopp - "nuclear power plant nuclear power evening" • 526663 - "coal fired power plant nuclear reactors nuclear" • eugeniu - "heavy water factory chemical disaster exercise calamity" • Dave Sizer - "Satsop Nuclear Power Plant"

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