The Nuclear Power Station: From Control Room to Reactor
Is nuclear power the way of the future of energy in the world or should it be consigned to the past?
The first fact which may surprise you is that the energy produced in a nuclear power plant actually comes from steam, albeit generated through the heat of a nuclear reactor, being harnessed to run a steam turbine to create electricity. The first test of a nuclear power station’s design was held in 1948, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the installation was used to power a light bulb. In June of 1954 in Obninsk, the Russians upped the ante by using the model to generate enough electricity to operate an entire power grid. Full scale models would be created in Calder Hall, England, and Shipping port in the United States by the late 1950s.
A nuclear power plant if made up of several parts, dividing up the task to create energy cleanly and effectively. The process begins in the pressurized water reactor, where liquid coolant (typically water, but liquid metal or gas can be substituted) is heated through the process of nuclear fission and becomes steam. The heated coolant then passes through the steam generator, where the steam needed to power the steam turbine is produced under pressure. To maintain the proper level of water necessary, a feedwater pump is often employed. The steam turbine continues the process by expanding and condensing the steam in order to cultivate as much energy transferred to the coolant from the nuclear fission process before it is sent to the electrical generator. Uncondensed vapor remaining then is sent to a condenser, which feeds the water into an output such as a river or cooling tower before being administered once again back into the generator and the cycle repeats.
The nuclear reactor sits at the center of the whole operation, powering the heat needed for the rest of the procedure to occur. The key which causes the reactor to release energy is often uranium, because of its manageable nature as a fissile material.
One drawback when using uranium is that it creates radioactivity along with the required heat and the harmfulness of the radiation thus the reactor core needs to be shielded to hinder the radiation’s escape into the environment. To prevent the leaking of any radioactive material from circling back into the earlier stages from the steam generator, activity meters placed in the area are monitored from the safety and comfort of the control room furniture. In order to avoid pressure from building up, which could cause pipes to burst or even an explosion in the reactor, safety valves can be employed to release it. Should any emergency occur, the power to the plant should continue to be available as most plants gather their electricity from station service transformers set up in two or more distinct areas. Most-if not all-nuclear power stations also are equipped to run with emergency power, should such a system of redundancy prove ineffective and a failure in offsite power occurs.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, comes the control room, from which the system operators oversee and manage the healthy functioning of the entire station and each one of its parts through an array of sensors and controls built into the furniture. A major role for the systems operator is to log all of the data being received from around the station and scrutinize it for any signs of trouble, including equipment failure. System operators are also in charge of the personnel onsite, especially when repairs are being made to the facility’s various sections which pose obvious health risks.