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Measuring and Detecting Radioactivity

Question

What are nuclear power stations powered by?

2 years ago

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4 Replies

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B

Brisa Hoeger


4 Answers

M
Mahmoud Mrihel

Nuclear stations are powered by nuclear rods/ nuclear fuels. These are rods are made from Uranium or Plutonium, which are Radioactive isotopes with an unstable nuclei.

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Jack B Verified Sherpa Tutor ✓

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Hi Brisa,


All current nuclear power stations are powered by a processed called Nuclear Fission.


Fission in a nutshell

Nuclear Fission is a process where a really large (in atomic terms) atom of (usually) Uranium becomes unstable*. This atom then breaks down into (usually) two smaller atoms.


Detail about the unstable atom

The large atom, which we call the parent atom, is unstable because it has too many neutrons. When an atom is unstable like this it will, at some point, break down.


Where does the energy actually come from?

If you were to measure the mass of the parent atom and then measure the mass of the two daughter atoms (the name we give to the smaller atoms after fission has taken place), you would find that the two daughter atoms add up to just less than the parent atom. Where did this mass go? it was converted to pure energy.


The bit I left out...

Neutrons, the sub-atomic particle that made the parent atom unstable in the first place, their part is not over yet. When the parent atom split (underwent nuclear fission) it also released a couple (sometimes more) of neutrons. These neutrons then go on to join other parent atoms nearby and make them unstable, causing more fission, more splitting atoms, more energy, more neutrons more fission..... I could go on. This is called a chain reaction and maintaining a steady chain reaction leads to constant energy production which runs our nuclear power station.


The future may be different!

Although we don't have any effective reactors currently there's a bunch of research being done on producing electricity using a slightly different process. It's not really to do with your question but if you're interested have a look into how we are trying to harness the power of the sun! Here

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Most nuclear power stations are powered by the fission (splitting up) of uranium and/or plutonium fuels. The heat produced during this process is used to turn water into steam.

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Jayne H Profile Picture
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They are powered by uranium and plutonium.

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