Energy from splitting Uranium atoms
Nuclear power is generated using Uranium, which is a metal mined in various parts of the world.
The first large-scale nuclear power station opened at Calder Hall in Cumbria, England, in 1956.
Some military ships and submarines have nuclear power plants for engines.
Nuclear power produces around 11% of the world's energy needs, and produces huge amounts of energy from small amounts of fuel, without the pollution that you'd get from burning fossil fuels.
How it works:
The main bit to remember:
Nuclear power stations work in pretty much the same way as fossil fuel-burning stations, except that a "chain reaction" inside a nuclear reactor makes the heat instead.
The reactor uses Uranium rods as fuel, and the heat is generated by nuclear fission: neutrons smash into the nucleus of the uranium atoms, which split roughly in half and release energy in the form of heat.
Carbon dioxide gas or water is pumped through the reactor to take the heat away, this then heats water to make steam.
The steam drives turbines which drive generators.
Modern nuclear power stations use the same type of turbines and generators as conventional power stations.
In Britain, nuclear power stations are often built on the coast, and use sea water for cooling the steam ready to be pumped round again. This means that they don't have the huge "cooling towers" seen at other power stations.
The reactor is controlled with "control rods", made of boron, which absorb neutrons. When the rods are lowered into the reactor, they absorb more neutrons and the fission process slows down. To generate more power, the rods are raised and more neutrons can crash into uranium atoms.
Natural uranium is only 0.7% "uranium-235", which is the type of uranium that undergoes fission in this type of reactor.
The rest is U-238, which just sits there getting in the way. Modern reactors use "enriched" uranium fuel, which has a higher proportion of U-235.
The fuel arrives encased in metal tubes, which are lowered into the reactor whilst it's running, using a special crane sealed onto the top of the reactor.
With an AGR or Magnox station, carbon dioxide gas is blown through the reactor to carry the heat away. Carbon dioxide is chosen because it is a very good coolant, able to carry a great deal of heat energy. It also helps to reduce any fire risk in the reactor (it's around 600 degrees Celsius in there) and it doesn't turn into anything nasty (well, nothing long-lived and nasty) when it's bombarded with neutrons.
You have to be very careful about the materials you use to build reactors - some materials will turn into horrible things in that environment. If a piece of metal in the reactor pressure vessel turns brittle and snaps, you're probably in trouble - once the reactor has been built and started you can't go in there to fix anything..
Uranium itself isn't particularly radioactive, so when the fuel rods arrive at the power station they can be handled using thin plastic gloves. A rod can last for several years before it needs replacing.
It's when the "spent" fuel rods are taken out of the reactor that you need the full remote-control robot arms and Homer Simpson equipment