Research, Technology

How do nuclear power plants work and what will happen if they are turned off?

Nuclear power plants (NPPs) generateelectrical and thermal energy, being an integral part of everyday life. The birthplace of the world's first nuclear power plant was the USSR: construction began in 1954, and 68 years later there are 437 nuclear reactors in the world located in 32 countries. These larger boilers come in different sizes and shapes and can run on a variety of fuels, splitting atoms to heat water and convert it into steam, the pressure of which drives generators. Nuclear power plants are considered relatively safe for the environment, as they do not contribute to CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. However, in 1986, the world was shocked by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and in 2011, the disaster overtook the Japanese Fukushima-1 station, thereby proving that nuclear power plants cannot be called safe. But is it worth waiting for something like this in the future? Let's figure it out!

For many, nuclear power is a vital way to combat climate change; others insist that it is dangerous, unprofitable and unnecessary.


  • 1 Where does electricity come from?
  • 2 Why are nuclear power plants dangerous?
  • 3 What will there be to turn off the nuclear power plant?
  • 4 What is radiation sickness?

Where does electricity come from?

The operation of nuclear power plants providesEfficient and reliable power supply around the world - nuclear power has the lowest environmental impact, unlike fossil fuel power plants. Alas, burning coal and oil to generate heat releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect.

The principle of operation of nuclear power plants is based on the generation of heat as a result of nuclear fission

More on the topic: How is radioactive uranium mined and what is it used for?

Nuclear power plants receive thermal energy as a result of the splitting of atomic nuclei in the reactor core. The main fuel today is Uranus - a heavy radioactive chemical element,found in most rocks. The fission of uranium-235 atoms, for example, leads to the production of a huge amount of heat, and the nuclear reactor itself is capable of continuously produce energy and electricity.

Why are nuclear power plants dangerous?

Being a safe source of electricity,Nuclear power plants, nevertheless, can threaten the health of people and all living beings on Earth. Waste generated as a result of the operation of nuclear power plants remains radioactive for tens and even hundreds of thousands of years. At the same time, there are no solutions for their long-term storage - most nuclear waste is in temporary above-ground storage facilities. But as such storage space is in short supply today, the industry is turning to other types of storage (more costly and potentially less secure).

Read even more interesting articles on our channel in Yandex.Zen! There regularly come out that are not on the site!

One of the main problems of using nuclear power plantsis the development of nuclear power programs that increase the likelihood of nuclear proliferation. This brings us back to the question of the responsibility of scientists for their inventions - in the end, the use of nuclear weapons can destroy life on Earth. And nuclear power plants are a potential target for terrorist attacks.

A major radiation accident of maximum level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale occurred on March 12, 2011 in Japan

Also plays an important role human factor and natural disasters. So, a strong tsunami bypassed the mechanismsthe safety of several power plants in 2011, causing three accidents at Fukushima-1 at once, and the consequences of the explosion of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl led to the spread of cancer among the population living in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear power plant.

Since overheating of the reactor can lead tomonstrous consequences, it must be constantly cooled - for this reason, nuclear power plants must be located near a source of water. But the number of places protected from droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and other potential disasters is declining around the world. The situation is exacerbated by the increase in extreme weather events as a result of rapid climate change.

More on the topic: How does a nuclear power plant work? Are nuclear power plants dangerous?

What will there be to turn off the nuclear power plant?

There are a number of rules for the safe shutdown of nuclear power plants,including cleaning of radioactively contaminated systems, plant structures and subsequent removal of radioactive fuel. The final closure of a nuclear power plant requires the deactivation of the facility (to reduce residual radioactivity) and the subsequent dismantling of the structures.

Compliance with all requirements of the shutdown processstation is necessary to protect the employees of the nuclear power plant and the population of nearby areas. But what happens if the station is disconnected from power without completing its decommissioning? Experts are sure that the lack of electricity and frequent power outages of the station are potentially dangerous and can lead to disaster.

On April 26, 1986, the most terrible radiation disaster occurred

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In order to prevent overheating of the reactors in case ofde-energizing a nuclear power plant, it is necessary to pump water with a serviceable pump (which, by the way, is impossible without electricity). For this reason, each NPP unit has a backup power source, for example, several diesel generators, which automatically start in the absence of external power. Experts also believe that if power outages at nuclear power plants become more frequent, and plants operate in this mode for too long, it will be almost impossible to avoid an accident.

According to a former researcherU.S. Department of Defense Nuclear Energy and Technology Robin Grimes, shutting down power to an operating reactor can lead to overheating: "Under certain circumstances, overheating a nuclear reactor will cause it to actually melt."

Recall that during the accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant, the operation of one of the three reactors was successfully stopped, but backup power and cooling systems failed. This, as we know today, led to a partial meltdown of all the station's reactors, and the main cause of the accident is the earthquake and tsunami that raged in the country for several days.

About 164 thousand people were evacuated from the contaminated territories.

And yet the most terrible accident is the explosion of a nuclear reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Among the causes of the disaster, experts identify the presence of malfunctions and errors in the operation of the station. The explosion itself claimed the lives of more than four thousand people, and the number of victims of radiation is still completely unknown.

Today, the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is uninhabitable and will be so for a very, very long time. My colleague Artem Sutyagin spoke about this earlier, I recommend reading it.

What is radiation sickness?

The first descriptions of radiation sickness appeared afterbombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US Air Force in August 1945: doctors had to deal with an unknown disease, the symptoms of which "suddenly appeared in some patients without visible damage." Today we know that the victims faced delayed effects of radiation exposure.

Acute radiation sickness is a disease resulting from exposure to various types of ionizing radiation, which is characterized by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, headache, malaise and rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

More details about how exactly radiation sickness proceeds and whether it can be cured was recently told by my colleague Andrey Zhukov, do not miss

Radiation sickness is a disease resulting from exposure to various types of ionizing radiation.

The severity of the condition in radiation sickness depends on the received dose of ionizing radiation. So, with small doses, the discomfort disappears within a few hours or days, but powerful radiation promotes the penetration of radiation into a large part of the body in just a few minutes. Unfortunately, it is impossible to save such patients from a painful death, experts say.

High doses of radiation also disrupt workphysiological systems of the body, destroying cellular structures. The researchers note that the effects of radiation adversely affect cell division, and therefore are much more dangerous for children than for adults. It turns out that the comfort and benefits of civilization cost humanity dearly. But are they worth the risk? The answer, as always, is waiting here and also in the comments to this article.