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Main components of nuclear power plants

Main components of nuclear power plants
i) Moderators ii) Reflectors iii) Shielding iv) Cladding v) Coolant vi) Nuclear reactor Radiation hazards and Shieldings vii) Steam generator viii) Turbine ix) Coolant pump and Feed pump

Main components of nuclear power plants:

i) Moderators


In any chain reaction, the neutrons produced are fast moving neutrons. These are less effective in causing fission of U235 and they try to escape from the reactor. It is thus implicit that speed of these neutrons must be reduced if their effectiveness is carrying out fission is to be increased. This is done by making these neutrons collide with lighter nuclei of other materials, which does not absorb these neutrons but simply scatter them. Each collision causes loss of energy and thus the speed of neutrons is reduced. Such a material is called a ‘Moderator’.The neutrons thus slowed down are easily captured by the fuel element at the chain reaction proceeds slowly.


ii) Reflectors


Some of the neutrons produced during fission will be partly absorbed by the fuel elements, moderator, coolant and other materials. The remaining neutrons will try to escape from the



reactor and will be lost. Such losses are minimized by surrounding (lining) the reactor core with a material called a reflector which will reflect the neutrons back to the core. They improve the neutron economy. Economy: Graphite, Beryllium.


iii) Shielding



During Nuclear fission ¥, b, gparticles and neutrons are also produced. They are harmful to human life. Therefore it is necessary to shield the reactor with thick layers of lead, or concrete to protect both the operating personnel as well as environment from radiation hazards.


iv) Cladding



In order to prevent the contamination of the coolant by fission products, the fuel element is covered with a protective coating. This is known as cladding.



Control rods are used to control the reaction to prevent it from becoming violent. They control the reaction by absorbing neutrons. These rods are made of boron or cadmium. Whenever the reaction needs to be stopped, the rods are fully inserted and placed against their seats and when the reaction is to be started the rods are pulled out.


v) Coolant



The main purpose of the coolant in the reactor is to transfer the heat produced inside the reactor. The same heat carried by the coolant is used in the heat exchanger for further utilization in the power generation.


Some of the desirable properties of good coolant are listed below


1.     It must not absorb the neutrons.

2.     It must have high chemical and radiation stability

3.     It must be non-corrosive.

4.     It must have high boiling point (if liquid) and low melting point (if solid)

5.     It must be non-oxidising and non-toxic.


The above-mentioned properties are essential to keep the reactor core in safe condition as well as for the better functioning of the content.


6. It must also have high density, low viscosity, high conductivity and high specific heat. These properties are essential for better heat transfer and low pumping power.



The water, heavy water, gas (He, CO2), a metal in liquid form (Na) and an organic liquid are used as coolants.


The coolant not only carries large amounts of heat from the core but also keeps the fuel assemblies at a safe temperature to avoid their melting and destruction.


vi) Nuclear reactor


A nuclear reactor may be regarded as a substitute for the boiler fire box of a steam power plant. Heat is produced in the reactor due to nuclear fission of the fuel U235 The heat liberated in the reactor is taken up by the coolant circulating through the core. Hot coolant leaves the reactor at top and flows into the steam generator (boiler).


Radiation hazards and Shieldings


The reactor is a source of intense radioactivity. These radiations are very harmful to human life. It requires strong control to ensure that this radioactivity is not released into the atmosphere to avoid atmospheric pollution. A thick concrete shielding and a pressure vessel are provided to prevent the escape of these radiations to atmosphere

Figure : Nuclear Power Plant (PWR)


vii) Steam generator


The steam generator is fed with feed water which is converted into steam by the heat of the hot coolant. The purpose of the coolant is to transfer the heat generated in the reactor core and use it for steam generation. Ordinary water or heavy water is a common coolant.



viii) Turbine



The steam produced in the steam generator is passed to the turbine and work is done by the expansion of steam in the turbine.


ix) Coolant pump and Feed pump



The steam from the turbine flows to the condenser where cooling water is circulated. Coolant pump and feed pump are provided to maintain the flow of coolant and feed water respectively.


Advantages of nuclear power plant


1.     It can be easily adopted where water and coal resources are not available.


2.     The nuclear power plant requires very small quantity of fuel. Hence fuel transportation cost is less.


3.     Space requirement is less compared to other power plants of equal capacity.

4.     It is not affected by adverse weather conditions.

5.     Fuel storage facilities are not needed as in the case of the thermal power plant.


6.     Nuclear power plants will converse the fossils fuels (coal, petroleum) for other energy needs.


7.     Number of workmen required at nuclear plant is far less than thermal plant.

8.     It does not require large quantity of water.





1.     Radioactive wastes, if not disposed of carefully, have adverse effect on the health of workmen and the population surrounding the plant.


2.     It is not suitable for varying load condition.


3.     It requires well-trained personnel.

4.     It requires high initial cost compared to hydro or thermal power plants.


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