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- ray emissions (gamma rays) – are electromagnetic radiation of very high frequencies. Have an unknown range and can penetrate long distances through air or several centimeters through lead. Cannot penetrate through concrete, water or thick lead.
3. Conversion and Enrichment – Typical nuclear reactors use enriched U-235 for fuel. Naturally, only 0.7% of uranium is U-235. For nuclear fuel rods, this must be increased to 3-4% (for bomb-grade material it must be at least 85%).
Gaseous diffusion – is a common enrichment technique. Yellowcake is converted to a gas and passed through hundreds of porous barriers. The type of material allows U-235 to diffuse faster than U-238.
4. Fuel Fabrication – The gas is converted to a uranium powder and made into pellets that are then installed in fuel rods.
A typical pellet of uranium weighs about 7 grams (0.24 ounces). It can generate as much energy as 3.5 barrels of oil, 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, or 1,780 pounds of coal.
5. Fuel Burning – These fuel rods are inserted into the reactor core. These must be replaced (once every 3 years) because they will build up radioactive wastes.
6. Spent Fuel Reprocessing –Currently these fuel rods are stored under water for several months to allow the decay of short-lived radioactive wastes (but there are still long-lived radioactive wastes remaining!). So fuel rods are dissolved in acid and the radioactive wastes are separated out and prepared for long-term storage.
What is the difference in how nuclear power plants operate versus how other plants operate to produce electricity?
The only way power plants operate differently is in how energy is created to turn the turbine that connects to the generator. In nuclear power plants, a nuclear reaction produces heat which produces steam to drive the turbines.
One neutron hits one nucleus; it causes that nucleus to fission (separate) into two parts.
Other neutrons are released, causing additional nuclei to fission so that we now have (at least) four parts.
This process continues until we have more and more nuclei fissioning.
In a bomb, this would continue uncontrolled. In a nuclear power plant, they use control rods that absorb neutrons and stop the reaction from continuing uncontrolled. (They simply drop them down into the reaction and it begins to cool down).
The continuous splitting of nuclei produces heat. This heat is made into steam to turn a turbine.
Cancer results when a mutation occurs which causes cells to lose the ability to properly regulate their growth, thus, they typically grow out of control. Thus, increased exposure to radiation could potentially increase rates of cancer because they will cause mutations that affect our cells.