A nuclear fuel power plant differs from a fossil fuel power plant in that a nuclear reactor and a specialized boiler are substituted for the conventional furnace and boiler. The major difference is found in the handling of nuclear fuel and boiler room equipment. Steam still plays the dominant role in the production of electricity.

Nuclear Energy
Nuclear energy (sometimes less precisely referred to as atomic energy), may be defined as the energy which is created when mass is destroyed. The equivalence of matter and energy are expressed in Einstein’s well known equation: E = mc2

Since the velocity of light (c) is 186,000 miles per second, a very small change in mass (m) will produce an enormous amount of energy. For one pound of mass, the energy released will be found to be: E/lb = 38,690 billion Btu or (assuming 13,000 Btu per pound of coal) some three billion times as much energy in uranium (pound for pound).

However, a way has not yet been found to convert all of a given bulk of matter to energy. Even in the normal reaction (or fission) of uranium, only about one-thousandth of the mass is consumed. So when one pound of uranium is fissioned, some three-million times more energy is obtained than by burning one pound of coal. A fantastic potential.

(To put nuclear energy into proper perspective, while Einstein determined the relationship between energy and mass, he also was convinced that energy derived from mass was impossible. Others determined that it was possible, and it remained for Fermi to demonstrate not only its possibility, but its practicability as well.)

Nuclear Fuel
In describing the combustion of fossil fuels, the atoms of one substance (e.g. carbon) combine with the atoms of another (e.g. oxygen) to form a molecule of a third (e.g. carbon dioxide), liberating heat in the process.

In nuclear fuel, energy is released by reactions that take place within the atom itself. The atom, as small as it is, is made up of still smaller particles and the magnitudes of the spaces between them bear the same relative relationship as the elements of the solar system; indeed, the atom can be portrayed as a miniature solar system.

At the center of this system is a nucleus. Around this small, but relatively heavy center, particles having a negative electric charge, called electrons, spin at very high speeds. The nucleus is made up of two kinds of particles, protons and neutrons. Protons are positively charged particles and usually are equal in number to the electrons.

Neutrons resemble the protons but carry no electrical charge. Practically all of the atom’s mass is in the nucleus; one electron has only about one two-thousandth (0.002) the mass of the proton. To give some idea of the minuteness of relative dimensions involved, if the nucleus was as large as a baseball, electrons would be specks a half-mile away. The diameter of an atom, which is also the electron orbit, is in the nature of two one-hundred millionths (0.000,000,002) of an inch, and the diameter of the nucleus about one ten-thousandth (0.0001) of the diameter of the atom, or two trillionths (0.000,000,000,002) of an inch.  

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