Nuclear -- Location/Obtaining the Resource

Nuclear energy can be found in many different places around the world. Uranium, a common radioactive metal found in rocks all over the world, is crucial for nuclear energy to be produced. Uranium is found in rocks in the topsoil and crust of the earth, so it must be mined. There are 14 different countries that have uranium mines in them. These countries are shown below.

Uranium mines. Map by Google Images

In 2010 Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia had some major stats for uranium mining, as shown below.
Graph by Adam.

In the U.S., there are uranium mines in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming. After the uranium is mined it's sent to a nuclear power plant. There are 435 functioning nuclear power plants in the world, 9 of these countries are shown on the map below.
Functioning nuclear power plants in the world. (Each dot represents a functioning nuclear power plant.) Map by Nuclear
Three of these countries, France, Japan, and Great Britain, are completely dependent on nuclear energy for electricity. France has between 56 and 58 nuclear reactors in operation, one of which is the Superphénix nuclear reactor. Japan has between 53 and 55 nuclear reactors, and Great Britain has 35. The U.S. is the country with the most nuclear reactors though, having 104. Thirty-five of these reactors are boiling water reactors. In conclusion, nuclear energy is found all over the world.

The Superphénix nuclear reactor in France. Photo by Google Images.

There are a number of different ways to obtain nuclear energy. First, you have to acquire a substance whose atoms separate easily. One substance other than uranium that meets these standards is plutonium, but most scientists still prefer to use uranium.
A piece of raw uranium ore. Picture by Google Images.
Three thousand tons of uranium is mined each year, and all of the U.S.A's uranium reserves weigh about 1,227,000 pounds. Some major states that mine uranium are Utah and Texas. There are at least two different ways to obtain uranium, depending on the deposit. Open pit mining is one way to mine uranium, and another way is underground mining. Open pit mining is when people remove soil and rock on top of the uranium to get to it, as opposed to underground mining, which is when people dig for uranium at least 100 meters below the surface. In a conventional mine, the uranium ore is crushed, ground, and leached with sulfuric acid or caronate leaching in a mill. Then. the enriched ore is sent to the local nuclear power plant.
A conventional mine. Photo by Google Images
Once there, it's formed into small, fingertip-sized ceramic pellets. These pellets are stacked into 12-foot fuel rods which are then placed in the core of a nuclear reactor. The fuel rods are located in the core of the nuclear reactor in tubes surrounded by graphite or water. There are boron control rods close to the fuel rods to prevent an uncontrolled chain reaction to occur.
A uranium pellet being stacked into a fuel rod, which is then bundled together with others to form a fuel rod assembly. Photo by Google Images
There are several different types of nuclear reactors, shown below.
  • Thermal reactor, where neutrons are slowed by water or graphite.
  • Fast reactor, where neutrons are always moving at high speeds (such as the Superphénix reactor).
  • Breeder reactors, where neutrons are used to convert U238 to Pu239 and create more fuel than they use.
  • Pressurized water reactors (PWR for short), which use ordinary water to drive turbines by super heating it at high speeds.
  • Advanced gas reactors (AGR for short), in which the coolant and propellant is a pressurized gas, such as argon.
  • Boiling water reactors (BWR for short), where the reactor core generates heat using a chain reaction. Next, the reactor’s coolant water absorbs the heat to make steam. Any extra steam from the turbine is condensed back into water for future use. This steam then turns a turbine, which turns a gear inside of a generator. The gear rotates magnets that rub against copper coils, generating electricity. Finally, the energy is sent through cables to the switch yard so that it can be transported to wherever it is needed.

In short, there are several different ways to obtain nuclear energy.


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