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ED 257 6"74 



SE-045 770 

Atoms to Electricity. 

Department of Energy, Washington, D.C. 


Nov 83 

l£8p. ; ♦Photographs may not reproduce clearly ^^r- 

AVAILABLE FROM BNERGY-DOE, P.O;- Box 62, Oak Ridge, TN 37830 (Single 






Reports - General "(1*0) 
MF01/PC03 Plus Postage. 

Economics; ^Electricity; Energy Education; Foreign? 
Countries; ^Hazardous Materials; *Nuclear Energy; 
*Nuclear Power Plants ;* *Nuclear Technology; *Waste 
Disposal; Wastes 

♦Nuclear Reactors; Nuclear Wastes * 


This booklet explains the basic technology of nuclear 
fission power reactors, the nuclear fuel cycle, and the role of 
nucleaqpenargy as 'one of the domestic energy resources being ' 
developed to meet the national energy demand. Major topic areas 
discussed include: the role of nuclear power; the role of 
electricity; generating electricity with the atom; nuclear power and 
radiation; types of nuclear reactors (boiling-water, 
pressuri zed-water, and high temperature gas-cooled .reactors); breede: 
reactors; nuclear, fuel — mining to reactor;, nuclear fuel — reactor to 
waste disposal; transporting radioactive materials; the economics of 
nucl'ear power; and nuclear electricity in * other countries. A list of 
selected books, reports and articles, and films is included. (JN) 




* Reproductions' .supplied by EDRS» are the best that can be made , * 

* - from the original document. * 




.NOVEMBER 1983 . 











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• The Role of Nuclear Power 2 

The Beginnings 2 

The Growth of Nuclear Power 2 

*> Nuclear Power Today and Tomorrow " 3 

The Role of Electricity _ 7 

Electricity and the Economy * 7 

Electricity and the Consumer , . . * .»..;,..' : . '. 8 

Fueling the Powerplants '.....). 9 

Generating Electricity With the Atom 10 

The F.ission Process . . 10 

Uranium Isotopes \ 12 

Nuclear Reactors • > 12 

The Nuclear Electric Plant li 

Nuclear Powerplant Safety 1€ 

■ Lrcensmg, Building and Operating a Nuclear Powerplant'. 20 

Nuclear Power and Radiation A - 24 

Types of Nuclear Reactors . 2% 

Boiling-Water Reactors (BWR) , .25 

Pressurized-Water Reactors (PWR) ? - .'26 ' 

High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactors (HTGR) , . . 27 

Breeder Reactors 30 

Nuclear Fuel: Mining to Reactor ^34 

Mining and Milling * ^. ."^"34 

Enrichment and Fuel Fabrication ." 37* 


Nuclear Fuetc Reactor to Waste Disposal *. 40 

Handling Spent Fuel 40 . 

Reprocessed Wastes * 41 

HanViirjgK'and Disposing of High-Level Wastes f. ..42 J 

Handling and Disposing of Low-Level Wastes .44 

Changes in Low-Level. Waste Policy 45, 

Transporting Radioactive Materials , ... 47 

Spent Fuel Shipments . '. ' 48 

Transporting High- and Low-Level Wastes 51 

Shipping Procedures and Regulatory Responsibilities . 51 

ERIC . "4 


The Economics of Nuclear Power f ' .... • 53 

Nuclear Electricity in Other Countries „ ... .56 

Conclusion * \ 9 . 59 

Selected References and Resources 60 

List of Illustrations 

1. Experimental Breeder Reactor- 1 (EBR-1) 3^ 

2. Shippingport Atomic Power Station 4 

'3. Commercial Nuclear Powerplants in the United States 5 

4. Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Station 6 

5. Electricity: From Its Source to You : 7 

6. H.B. Robinson Steam Electric Plant • 8 

s 7. The Components of an Atom r v 10 

%. The Fission Process 11 

9. Elements of a Nuclear Water-Cooled Reactor 13 

10. Duane* Arnold Energy Center • . .-». 14 

11- Steam Generator Transport ." 15 

12. Safety Barriers in a Nuclear Powerplant 17 

13. Shearon Harris Reactor Vessel 18 

14. Containment Construbtfcn at Shearon Harris 19 

15. Zion Nuclear PowerjeJ^ion .» 21 

16. Environmental Mo*<fi»ng System at Crystal River Nuclear Plant ... 22 
-17. ' Big Rock Point Nucwar Powerplant . . . .- 25 

18. Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) ' 26* 

19. Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) 27 

20. Point Beach Nuclear Plant . . ~ ■ 28 

21. High Temperature Gas-Cooied Reactor /HTGR) „ . . . .$£».' 28 

22. Fort St. Vrain m 29 

23. The Breeding Process * - 30 

24. Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR) 31 

25. Experimental Breeder Reactor-ll -32 

26. > Fast Flux Test Facility 33 

27. * Clinch River Breeder Reactor Plant . . . : 33 

28. The Schwartzwalder Mine 34 

29. U.S. Department of Energy's Gaseous Diffusion 

Enrichment Plant 36 

30. Nuclear Fuel Pellets * 37 

ERIC . 5 

31. Fue(. Loading at the McGuire Nuclear Station 38 

32. Underwater inspection of Spent Nuclear Fuel 40 

33. The Nuclear Fuel Cycle 41 

34. « The Climax Spent Fuel Storage Test ... 42 

35. High-Level Waste Solidification " " " 43 

36. Low-Level WasteShipment ... s ... , [\. . . . . i?.^ 45 


Spent Fuel Rail Cask -. T " V ' 49 

38. Durability Testing- of Spent Fuel Container at Sandia Laboratories ' 50' 

39. Tihange-1 Nuclear Powerplant . i \ \ ' 55 

40. Joyo Breeder Reactor in Japan J 53 

List of Tables 

■ - 

1 . Typical Sources of Radiation Exposure In the United States 24 

2. Comparative Fuel Requirements for Electric pQwerplants 35 

3. Annual Shipments of Nuclear Materials in the United States . 47 

4. Five-Year Total of Hazardous Materials Incident Reports in the United 
States by Classification .• . 48 

5. Nuclear Rowerplants Outside the United States '"' 57 



By the mid 1970s the United 
States and much of the rest of the 
world found itself in a serious, long- 
term energy crisis. Fuel cQsts had 
become much more expensive than 
they had ever been, largely 
because the most easily recovered 
oil and gas had already been 
depleted. Moreover, a major portion 
of the energy use in the United 
States was based on a potentially 
unreliable fuel source; imported oil. 
* The security of the nation's 
economy now depended on deci- 
sions about energy prices and * , 
energy supplies made in other 
countries thousands of rrtiles away. 

Cutting back on U.S. 
dependence on imported oil, most 
experts agreed, required two 
actions: first, conserving energy, 
especially the use of oil, and n 
second; relying more heavily on 
energy resourqes available in the 
United States. These changes have 
brought a new level of importance 
to the role of electricity in our 
national economy. 

^s Americans cut back on theft 
direct use of oil, they turned to elec- 
tric power to fill much of the' gap. 
Electricity, which accounted for £5 
percent of our national energy use 
in 1970, increased its share to over 
30 percent by 1980.*Many energy 
projections expect it to account for 
nearly 50 percent by the turn of the 

As electric power has grown in 
importance, the number of potential 
fuel sources to produce it have 
declined. Large sites for hydroelec- 
tric plants have essentially been 
exhausted, and oil and gas have 
become too expensive to consider 

for new electricity generating sta- 
tions. This, means that the nation 

' must rely almost totally on two 
energy sources— ,coaf and nuclear 
energy— for new needs for electric- 
ityover the next few decades. 

This booklet explains the basic 
technology of nuclear fissjon power 
reactors, the Nuclear fuel cycle and 
the role of nuclear energy as one of 

' the domestic energy resources 
being developed to help meet our 
national energy demand. Nuqlear 
power accoijnted for some 12 per- 
cenjt df the U.S. electrip energy 

-supply in 1982, In the 1990's, it js c 

; expected -to become second only to 2 
coal as a source of our electric 
power, almost doubling its present 
contribution to our national electric- 
ity supply. . "~ " • 




The Role of Nuclear Power 

The Beginnings 

On December 20, 1951, at a 
government laboratory in Idaho, 
man's abiKty to use an energy hid- 
den in nature entered a new era. 
An experimental plant called the 
Experimental Breeder Reactor 
(EBR-I) generated enough electricity 
to light four 200-watt light bulbs 
(Figure 1). With that success, man 
had harnessed a new energy 
source that was neither mechanical, 
like the power of wind or failing 
water, or chemical, like the burning 
of coal, oil or gas. This electricity 
was created by nuclear energy. 

The impodRM^e of this 
breakthrougfcnvafe evident to scien- 
tists and energy experts around trie 
world. . Nuclear fissipn energy—the 
% heat» released when the nucleus of- 
jan atom "fissions", or splits into 
two small pieces — expanded human 
potential beyond the limits of sjjch 
fuefs as cbai t , oil, gas, and the 
renewable energy of hydropower. It 
offered the promise of abundant 
electricity at relatively iow costs and 
of providirfg power without th$ 
environmenta);eff6gts that accom- 
pany the burning of fossil fuels. 
Government officials, scientists, • 
journalists, and industry leaders 
alike saw this development as thp 
beginning of a hew age— the , 
"atomic age". 

The Growth of Nuclear Power 

. During the 1950V there was no 
shortage - of inexpensive fossil fuels 
for electric generating plants, so 
there was little obvious need to 
develop an alternative-foe! source. 

* The first few nuclear powerplants 
were essentially demonstrations of 
the technology, co-sponsored by 
utilities and the U.S. Atomic Energy 
Commission (Figure 2). 

In 1960, I|owever, the first 
nuclear powerplant financed entirely 

- by a utility, the Dresden 1 plant of 
Commonwealth Edison Company, 
began operating near Chicago, In 
the next six years 28 other utilities 
followed suit with a total of 38 qew 
nuclear units. They were turning to 
nuclear for two reasons: to take 
advantage of the cost savings made 
possible by nuclear energy and, in 
some cases, to conserve fossil 
fuefs. By the early 1970s utilities 
were announcing plans for new 
nuclear plants as frequently as for 

/coal-fueled stations. 

/ . In the mid 1970s the rapid- 

^growth era for new "nuclear 
powerplants came to an end. The 
United States responded to the 
Mideast oil embargo and other 
shocks to its economy by using less 
energy than had previously been 
, projected. The economic slpwdown 
- of the late 19709 and early. 1980s 

, further reduced energy deman'd. 

• The 7 percent a year increase .in 
electric power demand, which had 
remained essentially constant for 
over two decades, dropped to near 

* zero in 1974,-V/Jttt minor fluctua- 
tions, the average annual growth 
since then has been about 3.5 per- 
cent, or half the rate of earlier 
years. Many utilities weVe hard- • 
pressed to embark on large con- 

• struction projects because of high 
inflation rates and even higher 
increases in fuel costs. Facing a 
slowdown in the growth of Electricity 


Figurm t. On December 20, 1951, ipur electric light bulbs at \the Atomic Energy Commission's 
(AEC) National Reactor Testing Station Jn Idaho were powered by this generator (right) "which 
operated on heat from Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-I). (Credit: Argonne National 
Laboratory) . t I 

demand, utilities began cutting back 
on their pians for additipripf 
generating units, both coal and 

nuclear. c 1 


Nuclear Power Today and 

Today more than 80 commer- 
cial nuclear powerplants are 
licensed to operate in the United 
States (Figure 3). In 1982 nuclear 
power provided over 12 percent of 
the nation's electricity. Since elec- 

tricity accounts for some 34 percent 
of the energy use in the country, 
nuclear power was the. source of 
4.3 pecent of the energy produced 
overall for the nation. The capacity 
o^ today's nuclear plants — about 65 
million kilowatts— is equal to the 
size d(f the entire U.S. electric 
capability in the mid-1 940's. 

Tne role of nuclear powiar is 
particularly important in many 
regions of the cpuntry with high 
fossil fuel costs. In New England, 
wher^lthe principal alternative to 

Figure 2T; The 60,0OG4(W SfUppmgport Atomic Power Station, Shipplngport. Pennsylvania, was 
the first targe-scale central-station nuclear powerpfant in the United States and the first plant of 
such size in the world operated safely to produce electric power. The plant a pint project of the 
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and Duquesne Light Company, began operating in 1957. 
(Credit\Department of Energy) % 

nuclear power is imported oil, 
nuclear energy provided nearly 35* 
percent of the total electricity 
generated in ^1982 (Figure 4). in 
Virginia, nuclear power accounted 
for 46 percent; in New Jersey, 45 
percent; in Nebraska, 48 percent; in 
Minnesota, 36 percent. 

About 60 other nuclear units 
are under construction or being 
planned by the nation's investor- 
pwned, government-owned and 
consumer-owned utilities. Assuming 
.that they are completed in the 

1990's, nuclear power vyill provide 
enough^ electricity to meer the elec- 
trical needs of about 20 percent of 
the U.S. population. 

Beyond the approximately 140 , 
plants operating or under construc- 
tion, the outlook for nuclear power 
in the United States remains uncer- 
tain. The number of additional U.S. 
nuclear powerplants built in the next 
few decades will depend upon 
several factors: 


• the overall need for new 
electric generating stations 

10 - 


Nuclear Generating Unit Capacity 

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Figura 3. Commercial Nuclear Powerpiants In the United States 



■ \ 





Figure 4. Ma/fle Yankee Nucteai Power Station set a record in July 1978 for the longest con- 
tinuous operation of a nuclear powerpiant: 392 days. During that run it generated 7 billion 
kilowatt hours of electricity, which is the equivalent of 13 million bmrels. of oil. The plant has the 
capacity to produce 825,000 kilowatts of electricity. (Credjt: Maine Yankee) 

" as a resuft of electrical 
demand growth as we!! as 
the n£ed to replace old 

• plants; 

• the degree to which electric 
power will be used to 
substitute for oil and oth^r J 

> fossil fuels; 

• the ability of other 
resources — Mke ft cQal, solar 
energy or other new 
technologies— to meet future 
energy demand; and, 

• changes in the nuclear 
regulatory climate. 

* With 140 plants already in 
operation or under co n s t ru ct ion, 
nuclear power clearly represents a 
major energy source. It will be 


~ important to the U.S. economy for. 
at least a generation into the 
future— and, perhaps for much 
longer, defending on future energy 
and economic policies. 



The Role of Electricity 

£ver since IMichael Faraday 
invented an'etecfric operator in the 
early 1800s* tire indjjitfialized world 
has, been using an increasing 
amofont of its energy 4n the form/of 
electricity.* Faraday demonstrated 
that a wire loop that is rotating in a 
magnetic field will generate 
elecfricity— that *s, the mechanical 
energy of its rotation can be „ 
transformed into, electrical energy, 
The electrical energy can be f 
transmitted to a motor that will 
reverse the process, transforming 
the .electricity back into a useful 
fnechanical energy. 
/ Electricity, then, is not a source 
of energy, but a form of energy. It 
relies on basic energy sources — Jike 
falling water or heat from the bun> 
ing of coal or other fuels — to spin a 
turbine (Figure 5). The turbine pro- 
vides the mechanical energy that a 
generator converts into electricity. 

The eiectribity is "shipped" or 
r distributed through transmission 4 
> lines to homes, schools, hospitals, " 
factories, office buildings' aqdqther 

Because electricity can easily 
be shipped considerable distances 
By transmission lines to^bigsjjties, 
small towns, and farm' communities, 
and because the consumer finds 
electricity convenient for many pur- 
poses, the use of electricity has 
steadily increased. In fact, as a 
rule, it has grown far more rapidly 
in the past few decades than the 
overall use of energy. 


Electricity and the Economy 

Over a period of several 
decades, the development of the 
U.S. economy has been closely 
linked with the usage of electric 
power. Electricity demand steadily 



Heat Source 



□ a an 

Transmission Towar 

Industry and Comnwu 


Figura 5. Electricity: From Its Source To You 







Flgum 6. 77>e a/a. Robinson Stem Electric Plant near Hartsvitte, S.C., produces electricity from 
both a nuclear unit (left) and coal-fired unit (right). (Credit: Carolina Power and Light Co.} 

increased much faster than the 
national economy-^by some 7^ to 
80 percent— until our energy usage, 
patterns began to change drastically 
in the early 1970s, Conservation 
programs and rising prices made 
Americans, much more careful about 
their energy use. But ever since 
then, while the use of other energy 
forms has declined, the demand for 
electricity has continued to grow 
' faster than the national economy by 
some 25 to 50 percent, 

Electricity and the Consumer 

Approximately one-third of the 
energy used in the United States 
goes into the generation of electric , 
power. Of that electricity, about 40 

percent is used in industry, about 
36 percent in households, and 25 
percent in stores and offices. All 
three segments of bur economy 
have cut back on their use of every 
other energy form in the past, 
decade, but they have inqreased 
their demand for electric power. 

Trends in housing h$ve 
' dramatized this steady shift toward 
electricity. Until 1970 less than 8 
percent of U.S. households were 
heated electrically. Since then the 
electric heat pump has increased 
the efficiency of electric heating and 
lowered the cost to the point that 
more than 50 pfercent of all the new 
homes in the past decade have , 
been built with electric heating 



> Many recent developments that 
we now tajte for granted depend on 
electricity^-ielevision, air- 
conditioners, stereo systems, com- 
puters and calculators, movies, 
home appliances, and even 
elevatdTI*, which made modern 
cities possible. Together they con- 
tributed to a demand for electric ^ 
power that increased by some 50 
percent even during the 
conservation-minded decade of the 
1970s. With a growing emphasis on 
computer and other innovative 
technologies, the United States, like 
much of the industrialized world, is 
moving ahead into a new world of 
increased electrification. 

Fueling the Powerpiants 

As recently as 1973, oil and 
natural gas were providing 35 per- 
cent of our national electric power 
supply. Over the past 10 years they 
have become increasingly valuable 
-tor other energy needs and increas- 
ingly expensive; their share of our 
electric power has declined to 20 ' 
percent. Our amount of hydroelec- 
tric power has remained essentially 
•the same, and its shafaof electric 
generation over the last cjecade hasp* 
declined slightly from 15/io 14 per- 
cent. The amount of coal that we 
are burning in powerpiants has in- 
creased significantly,. bringing coat's 
share of our electricity supply up to 
more than 53 percent.-The source 
and fuel that has helped coal meet 
this rising electrical demand- 
growing in importance from four 
percent in 1973 to over 12 percent 
in 1982— is nuclear energy from 
uranium. (Figure 6) 

Generating Electricity With the Atom 

In concept a nuclear 
powerpiapt operates essentially the 
same way as a fossil fuel plant, wlthr 
one basic difference: the source of 
heat. The reactor of the nuclear 
plant performs the same function as 
the burning of fossil fuel in other > 
types. of electric plants— it 
generates heat. The process. that 
produces the heat in a nuclear plant 
is the fissioning or splitting of 
urapium atoms. That heat boils 
water to make the steam that turns 
the turbine-generator , just as in a 
fossil fuel plant. The part of the - 
plant* where the heat is produced is 
qalled toe reactor core. 

V The Fission Process 

.What Is the fission process' that 
produces the heat in nuclear power 
plants? It starts with the uranium 

Atoms are made up of three 
major particles. (Figure 7) 

• Inside the nucleus, 'Which is 
the center of the atom, 
n there are positively charged 
protons. The number of 
protons ii\ the nucleus 
determines whic^ f&mily or 
etement the atom belongs 
to: all hydrogen atoms have 
1 proton, carbon has 6, 
uranium has 92, etc. 
* • The nucleus also contains 
uncharged particles known 
as neutrons, the number of 
neutrons in the nucleus 
identifies the specific 
member of the atom's 
family^~or isotope. Different 
isotopes of the same 
element are designated by 
' - numbers after the element 
flame that describe the total 

Figure 7. The Components. Of An Atom 

o 1 " 



Fission Fragment $gn% 


gjeelon Fragment 

Nucleus A 

Free Neutrons 

Free Neutrons 


figure 8. The Fission Process 

number of protons and 
neutrons inside the nucleus. 
The carbon-12 atom, for 
example, contains six pro- 
tons (which 'make it carbon) 
and six neutrons in the 
nucleus; the carbon-14 atom 
j has six protons and eight 
* ^-neutrons. Though aii . 
isotopes of an element 
* behave the same chem- 
%v icaliy, they can vary in other 
properties. Carbon-1^ for 
' making m a radioisotope. 

• Circling Vound the nucleus 
Qf each atbcn are tiny 
negatively charged elec- 
trons. There are normally * 
the same number qf elec- 
trons as there are protons in 
the nucleus; otfrerwi^p the 
atom has a positive or 

negative charge and is said 
to be ionized. 

Because the protons have a - 
positive charge, they could be 
expected to repel each other. In 
- fact, hovyever, the particles in the 
nucleus are held together by what 
scientists call "nuclear binding 

It is possible to overcome that 
))inc|ing energy in some large 
'atoms, such as uranium, causing 
them to split apart or fission. The 
fission process occurs, when a 
neutron enters the ndcleus of a fis- 
sionable atom (Figure 8). The 
nucleus immediately becomes 
unstable, vibrates and tfren splits 
into two fissioft fragments that are 
propelled apart at a high speed. 
The 'kinetic energy (energy of mo- 
tion) of these fragments is 
transformed into heat as the fission 





fragments collide with surrounding 
atorris and molecules. This com- 
pletes the nuclear fission process: 
the binding energy of the nucleus * 
was released when the nucleus ab- 
sorbed a free neutron, it was 
transformed into kinetic energy that 
propelled apart the two fission 
fragments, and -their collisions with 
surrounding atoms. transformed the 
kinetic energy into heat, * 

The process of mass actually 
turning into energy was anticipated 
by- Professo^ Albert Einstein. His 
formula, E~mc 2 , predicts that a 
small amount of mass (m) can be 
transformed into a large amount of 
energy (E), and that the amount of 
energy can be calculated by 
multiplying the mass times the 
square of the speed of fight (c 2 ). 

Ift addition to the fission 
fragments and heat, a fissioning 
nucleus also frees two or three ad- 
ditional neutrons. Some of these 
neutrons can strike other fissionable 
atonjp, which release still other^y 
neutrons. These neutrons can, in 
turn, hit other fissionable atoms and 
continue the chain reaction. The - 
rate at which these "free" neutrons 
are emitted Is the key to sustaining 
and controlling a nuclear chain 

Uranium Isotopes 

The most common fissionable 
atom is an isotope of uranium 
known as uranium-235 (or U-235), 
which is! the fuel used in most types 
of nuclear reactors that are being 
built today. Though uranium is quite 
common in nature, about 100 times 
more common than silver, for exam- 

pie, U-235 is relatively rare. When 
uranium is mined, it contains two 
isotopes: 99.3 percent is the isotope 
U-238 and only 0.7 percent is the 
isotope U-235. Before the uranium 
r can be used as fuel in a nuclear 
powerplant, however, the 0.7 per- 
cent concentration of U-235 must 
be enriched to around a 3 percent 

The most common uranium 
isotope, U-238, is not fissionable 
Under most conditions, interestingly, 
jhough, ft Is fertile—which means 
Jhat when it absorbs a neutron, in- 
stead of fissioning, it is transformed 
into an atom that is itself fis- 
sionable. As neutrons from other fis- 
sions are absorbed by U-238, they 
cause nuclear reactions that convert 
U-238 to plutonium-239 (Pu-239), 
which is fissionable and can be * 
used as fuel the same as U-235. As 
puclear reactors operate, then, they 
are both using fuel by burning 
U-235 and creating fuel by trans- 
forming otherwise useless U-238 
into Pu-239. As plutonium builds up, 
some of the fissions in a reactor 
come from the plutonium, when it in 
turn absorbs another neutron. 

Nuclear Reactors . 

; ^ ■ A . 

Nuclear reactors are^basicaliy 
machines that contain and control 
jchain reactions while releasing heat 
w &La controlled rate (Figure 9). In 
* electric powerplants the reactors 
supply the he&t to turn water into 
steam which drives the turbine- 
generator. The reactor core is 
basically composed of the following 
four elements: 

• The fuel The nuclear fuel is 

£ffi£ » S£ S 

***** *« #» **>w* 



R Met or Pr*m*ur* V*mmml 

Reactor Core 
(Fuel Rods) 


(Coolant & Moderator) 

Control Rods 

Figure 9. Elements of a Nuclear Water- Coated Reactor 

the heart of the reactor. In 
most U.S. reactors the fuel 
consist^ of pellets of 
ceramic uranium dioxide 
(U0 2 ) less than Vfc inch in 
diameter and Vi inch long 
that are sealed in thousands 
of zirconium alloy tubes 
about 12 feet long. These 
tubes or "fuel rods" are 
. afranged in a precise 
geometric pattern and 
placed vertically at the 
center of the reactor (FiguTe 

The control rods. These rods 
have cross-shaped blades 
containing materials that ab- 
sorb neutrons and are used 
to regulate the rate of the 
chain reaction. If they are 
pulled out of the core, the 
reaction speeds up, If they " 

are inserted, they capture a 
larger fraction of the free 
neutrons and the reaction 
slows. The control rods are 
interspersed among the fuel 
assemblies in the core. 
Boron is a widely used 
absorber rpateriaL 

The coolant A coolant, 
usually water, is pumped 
through the reactor to carry 
away the heat produced by, 
the fissioning of the fuel. 
This is comparable to the 
water in the cooling system 
of a car which carries away 
the heat built up in the 
engine. In large reactors ^s 
much as 330,000 gallons of 
water flow through the reac- 
tor core every minute to 
carry away the heat. Most 
U.S. reactors are called tight 




Figure 10. The first fuel bundle at the [Suane Amok! Energy Cente^being lowered Into the 
nuclear reactor February 27, 1974. The 600-pound bundifis supported by a cable in the center. 
The cartridge-tike posts ringing the reactor are the bolts for fastening the reactor vessel head 
in place. (Credit (owe Electric) 

water reactors (LWRs) 
because they are cooled by 
ordinary or light water. 
The moderator. Neutrons 
have p better chance of 
causing an atom to fission if 
they move considerably 
slower than their initial 
speed after being emitted by 
a fissioning nucleus. The 
material used to slow the 
neutrons down -is called the 

moderator. Fortunately for 
reactor designers, water 
itself is an excellent 
moderator, so reactors can 
be moderated by the same 
water that serves as a 
coolant. The moderator is 
essential to maintain a chain 
reaction; if water Is lost from 
the core, the chain reaction 
stops (though the residual 
heat must still be removed). 


Figure 11. A 500-ton steam generator positioned on a barge for shipment to Arkansas Power 
and Ught's nuclear power plant qutskfe Little Rock, The barge trip covered 1,065 miles and took 
about two weeks. (Credit: Combustion Engineering) 

Although engineering designs 
are quite complex, these four 
elements—the fuel, the control rods, 
the coolant and the moderator— are 
the basic components of a nuclear 
reactor. When the control rods are 
withdrawn, the uranium fuel begins 
to fission and release extra 
neutrons, the neutrons are slowed 
by the moderator so that they will 
continue the chain reaction, and the 
heat is carried away by the coolant. 

The Nuclear Electric Plant 

The reactor is the on$ unique 
element of the nuclear powerplant. 
The rest of the buildings and equip- 
ment are similar to other electric 
powerplants. Summarizing the 

• Heat from the fission pro- 
cess turns water into steam; 

• The steam flowS into the 

turbine and turns a shaft to 
spin the generate* and 
generate electricity, losing 
some of Its heat and 9 
pressure in the process 
(Figure 11); 

• The steam then moves to 
the condenser, where water 
flowing through cooling 
pipes chilis it and con* 
denses it back into water. 
This water — called "conden- 
sate" —is preheated, to 
make use of a bit more of 
the heat in the low-pressure ■ 
steam, and fed back into . 
the reactor to begin the 
cycle once again. 

The water flowing through the 
cooling pipes, totally separate from * 
the "condensate," is handled dif- 
ferently. Cooling water is necessary 
for all electric powerplants that 
make steam from a heat source, 
not just nuclear^ plants, For that 
reason, electric plants of many 
kinds are typically located near a 
river, lake or other body of water. 
The cooling water for the plant is 
pumped from the body of water 
through pipes to the plant where it 
cools the steam. In the process of 
cooling the steam, the temperature 
of the cooling water jtself rises a 
bit. To dissipate this left over heat 
in the cooling water, many electric 
powerplants pump the water 
through a cooling tower 6r a 
specially-built pond. Then the water 
is fed back into the source it came 
from originally. At no time does the 
cooling water come into contact 
with the nuclear reactor or with 
ridioactive materials. 

Nuclear Powerpfant Safety 

In decisions to license, tuiild 
and operate aH nuclear \ 
powerplants, the subject 6f safety is 
of major importance. Operators of 
nuclear powerplants must 
demonstrate to the Nuclear 
Regulatory Commission (NRG)— the 
independent Federal agency 
.responsible for licensing and - / 
regulating nuclear fadlities— Jhat 
each plant is designed and con- 
structed with stringent safety > 
features. Most of these safety 
features have one overall objective: 
to prevent or minimize the 
accidental release of radioactive 
material from the plant. Additionally, 
the routine operation of nuclear 
powerplants must also meet 
stringent safety requirements. 

Since matters of safety are 
treated so seriously during the 
design, construction and operation 
of a nuclear electric plant by the 
utility, the nuciear industry and 
government regulators, experts con- 
sider it quite unlikely that any 
radioactive release could occur that ' 
would seriously affect public health 
and 'safety. Further, nuclear 
explosions are'physically impossi- 
ble: the uranium fuel with only a 3 
percent concentration of fissionable 
atoms is in a form that cannot ex- 
plode. While other kinds of equip- 
ment failure or operator errors are 
possible, radioactive materials 
would almost! certainly be 

As of the end of 19S2, the ; 
United States had accumulated over 
700 reactor-years of operating ex- 
perience with commericiai nuclear 




v. ' 

Corrtainm«(it Building j 
3 Rtlnforo^d Concrtt* w 

\ ' ,i V, } 

Staal Containment , { 
Lining f .4 , » 



FuaiRod, Langth 12' Oiamatar 

Containing a Stacks 
Ceramic Uranium Pallet* 
SaakkUn a Zircaloy Tuba 

fctyur* 12. S&f^ty Barriers in s Nuclear Powerpl&nt\ 

p^Werpiants without a single tass of s 
life* Jo a member\of the publi&V ' 

* Several barriers to trap ?nti 
contain radioactive material arW 
dqsjgned into &v0ry nuclear, < | 
potoerplant (Figure 12). They \ 
include:-* v - ; 

• Cera^ic^Ajel pellets. The 
uranium oioxide fuel / 

' material & pressed into ! 
pellets to* provide a stable 

form.. 4 

• Zircaloy fuel rods. The 
;&jbes, or fuel rods, which 
Hold the uranium fuel pellets 
are made out of a strong 
alloy of zirconium and tin 
called Zircaloy. They pre- 

« f vent solid and gaseous 
fission products from 
spreading through the reac- 
tor system. 



fleaetor vessel. Surrounding 
the core of fuel rdds is a 
reactor vessel, made of car- 
bon steel some 8-1 Q J inches 
thick and lined witty! . 
stainlesaj steel: Rea&br 
vesselkweasure abqut 40 
feet in Might and up to 16 
feet ins^m^ter, and they 
typicaHy wteigh Some \ 
400-800 tons (Figure 1$. 

Ci^inment buitcfa&r As a 
finafWasure of projection, 
the env &reactbr is sur- 
rounded By a massive cpn^ 
crete and steel containment 
buildiM'Jt h^s the single \ \ 
purpose of preventing I\.'A 
radioactive materials from t l* 
reaching tbeienvironment 
the event th^t piping 
^ystems inside^ niould lea^ 


1 > 

Figure 14. Workers install rainforcement steel on the containment liner df Unit 1 of the Shearer 
Harris Nuclear Powerplant mar New HIM, Worth Carotin*. (Credit Carolina Power and Ught) 

* or break. The concrete in 
the containment is typically 
5 about three feet thick, lined 
with 3/4 of an inch of steel 
(Figure 14). The contain- 
ment building is designed to 
protect the reactor from 
being damaged by a direct 
hit by a large aircraft or tor- 
nado winds up to 300 mph. 

In addition to these physical 
barriers? nuclear powerplants are 
designed and built with several 

safety systems and backup safety 
systems. The safety systems are to 
guard against malfunctions, . 
mistakes and potential accidents. 
For example, the most extensively 
studied accident is called a "loss of 
coolant". It tfte reactor core is not 
constantly cooled, its tremendous 
rate of heat generation could melt 
parts of the core. Even after the 
control XQds shut the reactor down 
there is still "decay heat" that re- 
quires some constant cooling. To 
protect against a loss of coolant, 




nuclea? plants contain several back- 
up cooling systems that can be 
called on to cool the core if the 
primary cooling system should stop 

With o^r 80 commercial 
nuclear plams licensed to operate 
in the 7 United States, some for more 
than 15 years, there has never - 
been an accident that has released 
a significant amount of radioactive 
materials to the environment. Re- 
cent scientific studies confirm that 
reqord, even for the 1979 Three 
Mile Island accident. That accident 
provided a considerable amount of 
information about the adequacy of 
nuclear power safety systems. 
Though the back-up cooling 
systems worked as designed and 
no radiation escaped through the 
reactor containment building (some 
was released from a nearby aux- 
iliary building), the accident pin- 
pointed that improvements were 
needed in operator training and in 
information displays in the control 
rooms. New Federal regulations and 
improved training and monitoring 
practices by the nuclear industry 
should help prevent a recurrence of 
the type of accident that occurred 
at Three Mile Island. 

Further safety precautions are 
taken in the immediate vicinity of all 
licensed nuclear plants. For exam^ t 
pie, no homes are permitted within 
the boundaries of the site of the 
plant, which typically covers several 
hundred acres. Access to the site is 
also controijed, These security 
measures are tq protect individuals 
from exposure to radiation or * 
radioactive materials and to keep 
unauthorized persons outside the area 

Besides restricted public ac- " 
cess to the site, pubt& health is 
protected by programsMhat <check 
for radiation releases. At the site 
boundary, monitoring and 
surveillance instruments are set up 
to measure whether any airborne 
radioactive materials are£eing 
released from the plant in the form 
of dusts, fumes, mists, vapors, or 
gases. These ongoing monitoring 
programs assure that indications of 
radiation levels remain within the ' 
public health standards and that 
corrective actions would be taken 
before the safety of the public is 

Licensing, Building and 
Operating a Nuclear Powerplant 

Only after receiving both a con- 
struction permit and an operating 
license from the NRC can a nuclear 
powerplant be brought into service 
in fhe United States. To issue these 
licenses, the NRC conducts detailed 
technical reviews of utility applica- 
* tions and must find that: 

• constructing and operating 
the plant will not present 

• undue risk to public health 
and safety; 

• licensing the plant will not 
be harmful to national 
defense and security; 

• the utility is technically , 
qualified to design, con- 
struct and operate the pro- 

^ posed facility; and * 

• the project complies with 
tt\e National Environmental 
Policy Act. 


Figuf* 15. Zhn Nuc^%m»,^bn is on Uto MJchfQan. (Credit: Commonwealth Edison Co.) 

The complete licensing and 
construction of a nuclear powerpiarit 
requires a lengthy series of licenses 
and permits frqm Federal^ state and 
focal government agencies. These 
permits and licences determine 
where the plant can be located, 
whether the power is needed, and 
how excavation anlf construction 
will be carried out. They also en- 
sure the protection of local plant' 

• and animal life, and the preserva- 
tion of land, air, and water from 
pollution (Figure 15). 

Notices about legislation, 
regulations, and rules that affect 
nuclear*powerplants are published 
in a government document called 
The Federal Register. These notices 
describe the type of action that is 

* proposed and the government * 
agency responsible for t(ie action. 

" Notices invite members of the 

public to comment^ and they identify 
^contact who win provide additionai 
i reformation upon request. Copies pf 
The Fecfera/ Register can usually be 
found In local libraries. * * 

Utilities provide the NRC with 
extensive environment^ and safety 
information as part of their license 1 v 
applications. They also are required 
to submit annu^ reports about the 
operation of the plants and speciaJ 
reports on occurrences out of the 
ordinary (Figure 16). These studies 
and reports are available for 
reading in the NRC's publig docu- 
ment roorns in Washington, D.C 4 
and other locations across the 
country, Including at least one 
public document room \t\ the area * 
of every nuclear plant. + • . x 

At important milestones in the 
planning and construction of new 
nuclear po^erpJants there are " ' * * 






Rgum 16. 4 technician takes a reading from 
fl/vw Atoctav Pte/rf ^ Ftooda. (Crsdit: Florida 

opportunities for members of the 
public to voice their views and raise 
their questions and even to become 
a full participant as an "intervenbr" 
in the pj$ceedings. As an intervener 
one is provided copies of ali reports * 
and applications and has the right 
to testify and question the govern- 
ment and industry witnesses before 
the Atomic Safety and Licensing 
Board, which conducts the 

Building a nuclear powerpfant 
requires a large number of 
specialists and skilled laborers. A 
project construction team includes 
nuciear engineers (spatially trained 
to design and build the plant), civil, 
mechanical and electrical 
engineers, boilermakers, weiders, 
pipefitters, carpenters and others. 
At the peak of construction -activity 
more than 2500 workefs are typical- 

the environmental monitoring system at the Crystal 
Power and Light) 


ly employed and high standards of 
quality are required. 

Nuclear powerpiants are , ' 
designed and built to operate for 
30-40 years. After the plant begins 
operating, more than 200 workers 
handle,, its everyday operation and 
maintenance. These workers in- 
clude nuclear operators and super- 
visors, mechanical maintenance 
crews, instrument technicians, 
electricians, laborers, experts in 1 
radiation protdctidn called health 
physicists, and a security guard 
force. When the plant shuts down 
once a year for refueling and major 
maintenance, this workforce may be 
supplemented for about two months 
with up to 500 workers. 

The nuclear plant operators, K 
working rouffcfethe-clock shifts, are 
responsible Jor the safe operation of 
the plant. To qualify as a nuclear 





plant operator, a person must go 
through extensive training ami pass 
a detailed written examination. 
Those who qualify are issued a 
license by the NRC. The qualifica- 
tion process is much like the 
rigorous' training one would undergo 
to become an airline pilot. 

Nuclear powerpiants that are 
being built today are considerably 
targef than those constructed in the 
early days of nuclear development. 
Electric generating stations are 
rated by the amobnt of electricity 
thdy can generate at their peak 
levels — usually expressed in terms 
of the kilowatt, which is 1,000 watts. 
The early demonstration plants 
were rated befWeen 200,000 and 
300,000 kilowatts. Most nuclear 
power units that have been com- 
pleted in the past few years have a 

unit on a single plant site. A typical 
1 -million kilowatt powerpiant will 
generate enough electricity to meet 
the commercial and residential 
needs of a city of some 560,000 




Nuclear Power and Radiation 

Nuclear powerpiants are permit- 
ted by license to release to the at- 
mosphere small amounts of radioac- 
tive materials which are virtually 
undetectable beyond the reactor 
site boundaries by even the most 
-sensitive instruments. These small 
quantities are relatively insignificant 
when compare^ to the natural radia- 
tion tf^t has always been a part of 
the earth's environment, 

1 Natural radiation come$ in the 
form of cosmic rays from the sun, 

and from naturally radioactive 
elements like potassium, radon, 
radium, and uranium that are scat- 
tered throughout our soil, building 
materials, food, even our air and 
water (Table 1). The average 
American receives about 100 
millirems— a standard unit or radia- 
tion measurement— each year from 
natural radiation. In addition adult 
Americans receive an average of 
about .90 millirems a year from 
medical and dental X-rays and £om 
other medical procedures. 

Table 1. Typical Sources of Radiation Exposure in the Untied States 

Source of Radiation 

Medial X-rays 

Cosmic rays from the sun 
(depending on altitude) 

Naturally radioactive elements 
to air, water, and food 

Naturally radioactive elements 
in soli and [ocks 

Medicines with radioisotopes 

Fallout from weapons tests 

Naturally radioactive elements 
in building materials 

Dental X-rays 

Luminous clocks 

Nuclear powerpiants and 
associated activities 

Avenue R^i&k(!> Exposure Per Person 

per Year) 






Source: The Effects on Populations of Exposure to Low Levels of ionizing Radiation", Com- 
mittee on the Biological Effects of ionizing Radiation, National Academy of Sciences, 
Washington, D.C., 1980. 



Types of Nuclear Reactors 

(Figure 17). In a BWR the water 
that is heated by the core turns 
directly to steam ih the reactor 
vessel, and the same steam is used 
to power the turbine-generator. 

The water in a BWR is piped 
around and through the reactor 
core and is transformed into steam 
as it flows up between the elements 
of the nuclear fuel The steam 
leaves the reactor through a pipe at 
the top, turns the turbine-gpnerator, 
is condensed back to water, and is 
pumped back into the reactor 
vessel, beginning the process again 
(Figure 18). 

Normally water turns to steam 
at a temperature of 212° Fahrenheit 
(100° Celsius). But at such a low 
temperature, steam— like a boiling 
tea kpftle— contains too little energy 
to be used in a turbine-generator. 
To raise the temperature and the 

Figure 17. Big Rock Point Nuclear Pow&plant, a boiiing-wat&r mactor (BWR) plant In Michigan. 0 
(Credit: Consumers Power Company) 

Just as there are different 
approaches to designing and 
buitding airplanes and automobiles, 
' - engineers have developed different 
types 'of nuclear powerplants. 
Several types are used in the 
United States: Boiling-Water Reac- 
tors (BWR), Pressurized-Water- 
Reactors (PWR), and High 
Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactors 
(HTGR). PWRs and BWR? are 
genetically called Light-Water Reac- 
tors (LWR). The electric generation 
process is essentially the same for 
all of them; the principal differences 
lie inside the reactor that produces 
the heat. 

i I 

Boiling-Water Reactors (BWR) 

About 30 of the nuclear plants 
in operation in the United States 
are boiling-water rtfactors, or BWR3 


. Transmission 
CcntalnmsortiuUding Unss 

Control Rods 

_ Turbfna- 



Figure 18. BcSffng Water Reactor (BWR) 

energy content, the water in a BWR 
is kept at a pressure of 1000 
pounds per Square inch (psi), in- 
stead of the normal atmospheric 
pressure of about t5 psi. Because 
of this added pressure, the water 
does not boil and turn to steam un- 
til it reaches a temperature of about 
545° Fahrenheit (285° C). This 
higher tempe{ature adds to the 
energy value* of the steam in turning 
the turbine. 

Pressurized-Water Reactors 

In a pressurized : water reactor 
(PWR) the water passing through 
the core is kept under sufficient 
press t^eihaf it does not turn to 
steam at all— it remains liquid * 
(Figure 19). Steam to drive the tur- 
bine is generated in a separate 
piece of equipment. 


The PWR system is known as a 
double-loop because it involves two 
separate circuits of water — or 
loops— which never physically mix 
with each other. One is a primary 
loop; the other is called a secon- 
dary loop. The water that flows 
through the reactor, known as the 
"primary" loop, is pressurized to 
about 2250 psi. It heats to about 
600°F (315°C) without boiling and 
leaver the reactor as a hot liquid. It 
is pumped through tubes in the 
steam generator. After transferring 
its heat in the steam generator to 
the secondary loop, the highly'pres- 
surized water in the primary loop is 
pumped back to the core to be 
reheated and continue with the pro- 
cess. The secondary water cir- 
culates around the tubes in the 
steam generator, picking up or "ex- 
changing" heat from the primary 
' loop. This .heat exchange turns the 



-Containment Building Transmission 

Vessel — 


Witor Loop 

r Pump 


| ^^^a£5 £ Cooling 

Fiquf 19. Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) 

secondary water to steam which 
fiows toward* the turbineat a 
temperature of about 5w*F 

About 50 of the nuclear 
powerplants operating in the United 
States are pressurized-water reac- 
tors (Figure 20). PWRs are also us- 
ed in nuclear submarines and other 
naval appiications. 

High Temperature Qas-Cooled 
Reactors (HTGR) 

High temperature gas-cooled 
reactors (HTGRs) are also double- 
loop systems. (Figure 21). The prin- 
cipal difference is that the coolant 
in the primary loop — which fiows 
through the core to carry away the 
heat— is not water, but a g&s. 

The gas used is helium, which 
is circulated through pipes in the 
primary loop by huge blowers. The 

gas, kept under a pressure of 
several hundred pounds per square' 
inch, can achieve much higher 
temperatures' than water. In some 
designs the gas can be heated to 
as much as 1400°F (760°C). As a 
result, the steam produced from 
water in the secondary loop, which 
powers the turbines, can have 
temperatures as high as 100O°F 
(538 °C), This higher temperature 
leads to improved thermal 
efficiency— that is, more electric 
power is generated for the same 
amount of heat from the fuel. 

Another major difference be- ; 
tween gas-cooled reactors and 
water-cooled reactors is the 
moderator. As was explained 
previously in the description of reac- 
tor core elements, in water-cooled 
reactors the water serves as a 
moderator to slow neutrons and in- 
crease the likelihood of atoms fis- 




•* Figure 20. Point Beach NucJe$r Plant at Two Crse&s, Wisconsin. The plant has two 

4Q7-r?}G<}aw8tt prassurize&water reactors (PWRs). Unit 1 began operation In 1970, Unit 2 in 
1972. (Credit: Wisconsin Eiectrfc Power Co,) 

- Figure 22. Fort St. Vrain in Colorado is the first commercial high-temperature gas-cooked reactor 
(HTGR) to be built In the United States. It is also the first to use a progressed concrete pressure 
vessel, (Credit: 'Public Service of Colorado) 

sioning. Gas, however, is not a 
satisfactory moderator because it is 
so, much less dense. Therefore 
another materia! must be included 
in the core. The moderator in gas- 
cooled reactbrs is graphite, which 
can withstand the high 
temperatures of these systems. The 
fuel, uranium carbide particles, is 

distributed throughout the graphite 
in the core of an HTGR. 

In the United States one gas- 
cooled reactor, Peach Bottom 1 , 
operated as a demonstration plant 
in Pennsylvania for seven years. A 
commercial HTGR, Fort St. Vrain, 
has been operating in Colorado 
since 1979 {Figure 22). 

Breeder Reactors 

Scientists and engineers have 
been working for ov§r three 
decades on breeder reactor 
! technology. Breeder reactors are 
being developed which will greatly 
multiply the energy obtained from 
uranium by converting that finite 
energy resource into virtually an in- 
exhaustible energy supply. 

All nuclear powerpiants pro- 
duce new fuel while they are 
operating — extra neutrons are ab- 
sorbed by U-238 atoms, which are 
then transformed Into fissionable 
plutoniufn (Figure 23). Some reac- 
tors are designed to do this so effi- 
ciently that they actually produce 
more fuel than they consume and 
are catied "breeder" reactors. 

Breeder reactors are able to 
multiply the amount of energy, 
available from uranium resources. 
By using the U-238— vyhich exists in 

great quantities as an otherwise, 
useless leftover from the uranium 
enrichment process — a breeder 
reactor will get 60 times as much 
usable energy, from natural uranium 
as today's nuclear powerpiants. ' 

Severe!' reactor types have the 
potential for breeding. The one that 
has been developed most 
thoroughly through experimental 
reactors and actual operating plants 
is cooled by circulating a liquid 
metal (sodium) through it. It is call- 
ed the liquid metal fast breeder , 
reactor, or LMFBR (Figure 24). 

These reactors are different 
from the other designs discussed in 
this booklet in several ways: 

• the neutrons released in the 
fission process are "fast," 
meaning they are not 
moderated, so they remain 
at high speed; 

Fission Fragments 

/ Fission 

I Transmutation 


^ Breeding 
Pu-239 S Reaction 




Figure 23. The Breeding Process 



* ■ 

Containment Building 

FuaJ — - 

racHoectfva ^ 
Sodium w 
Primary , ^ 


Ttanamlaafexi ' 
' Unit A » 
Staam Jpj^ *V t 






22 Cooling 

Primary Sodium Loop intermediate \ \ Water Loop 

Sodium Loop \ 

Figure 24. Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR) 

• the coolant Is sodium in the 
form of a liquid metai— like 
mercury in a thermometer; 

• the fuel is normally 
plutonium-^39; and 

• the design of the reactor in- 
corporates uranium-238 as 
the fertile material. 

Sodium is used as a coolant in 
the LMFBR because: it is an ex- 
cellent heat transfer agent; it is in- 
expenstye and.available in high 
purity; it is not subject to irradiation 
damage; it is compatible with many 
construction materials; and it is 
easy to pump at the reactor 
operating temperature, • 

The liquid metal fast breeder 
powerplant is a, three-loop system. 
Sodium would undergo a rapid 
chemical reaction if it comes into 
contact with water or st$am. To 

_keep the sodium t impasses 
through the core (jwhjch becomes 
radioactive) from any" potential con- 
tact with water, an intermediate 
heat-transfer loop also containing 
sodium separates the primary loop's 
radioactive sodium coolant from the 
water/steam loop. » 

In a liquid metal cooled 
breeder, sodium is circulated 
through the core and heated to 
about 1000°F (538 *C). This sodium 
passes through a heat exchanger to 
transfer its heat to an intermediate 
sodium loop. The sodium in this 
secondary loop then moves to the 
steam generator where it heats 
water in a third loop to steam at 
about 900°F (482°C), 

Several experimental breeder 
reactors have operated in the 
^nited States, in fact, the EBFM 
produced the' world's first electricity 




Figure 25. The Experimental Breeder Reactor-It (EBR II), located at Idaho Falls, Idaho, has been 
in operation since 1963. (Credit Department of Energy) , 

generated by nuclear power in 
Idaho in 1951,. fts successor, EBR- 
II, is still operating as a test reactor 
after almost 20 years, testing ad- 
vanced reactor fuels and materials 
(Figure 25). A developmental com- 
mercial LMFBR, the Enrico Fermi 
Atomic Power Plant, operated in 
Michigan in the 1960's. Fuel failure 
caused the pknt to be shutdown 
temporarily in 1966. After repairs, 
the plant resumed operations. High 

fuel cycle costs caused the plant to 
shut down in 1972, but not before 
its operation had helped to train 
personnel from France, Russia and 
Japan, who were later to develop 
fast reactor programs in their own 
countries. In 1980, the Fast Flux 
Test Facility (FFTF), a 400,000 
kilowatt (thermal), sodium cooled, 
fast neutron flux reactor designed 
for irradiation testing of fuels and 
materials for the LMFBR program, 





F*eurt2f. The Fast Fkuc Tspt FmMy is designed spectticaUy tor the testing of breeder fuel and 
component*. It began operation In February 1980. (Credit; Department of Energy) 

Fiftura 27. ArcMectural concept of the Clinch River Breeder Reactor Want (Credit: 
Department of Energy) 

began operating at the DOE Han- 
ford Engineering Development 
Laboratory (HEDL) site in Richland, 
Washington, (Figure 26). A 375,000 
kilowatt demonstration plant called 
the Clinch River Breeder Reactor 
(CRBR) has been under develop- 
ment in eastern Tennessee for 
several years with a combination of 
private and public funding (Figure 27). 

France, the Soviet Union and 
Great Britain each have operating 

breeder reactors and are planning 
commercial-size 1 million kilowatt ' 
.breeders in the near future. The 
French "Super Phenix" breeder 
(1 ,2 million kilowatts) is well along 
in construction and is expected to 
begin operating by 1984. The 
largest breeder now operating is the 
600,000 kilowatt Beloyargk plant in 
the Soviet Union. Breeders are also 
being developed in West Germany, 
India, Italy and Japan. 

Nuclear Fuel: fining to Reactor 

Unlike fossil fuels, which can 
be burned in a power plant in vir- 
tually the same form in which they 
exist underground, uranium must go 
through a series of complex 
changes to become an efficient fuel 
for electricity generation. By the 
time it reaches the reactor the 
uranium fuel has been mined, 
chemically processed, isotopically 
enriched, and fabricated into fuel 
pellets, and in the process being 

4 * 

transformed from a salt, to a 
powder, to a gas and finally to a 
dense ceramic. 

Mining and Milling 

Uranium is a fairly abundant 
element It exists throughout much 
of the earth's crust and is even 
found in the world's oceans. The 
largest deposits of uranium ore that 
have so far been discovered are in 

Figure 28. Uranium ore is being darted from the Schwertzwaider underground mine in Golden 
Colorado, (Qedft: Cotter Corporation) 



Table 2. Comparative fue/ R*qwmm&it$ for &ectrk: Pow*rplant$* 


uranium 4 
coal ;. * 41 

natural ga$ 
£oJar ceils 
garbage* , 
wood „ 

EngUah Units " 

33 tons ' 
2,300,000 tons * „ 
10,000,000 barrel* 
64,000,000,000 cubic feet 
25,000 acres 
7,000,000 tons 
2-4.000,000 cords 

Metric Units 

30 metric tonnes 
2,100,000 metric tonnes > 
1,600,000 ci^»c metefs 
1,600,000 cubic meters 
10,125 hectares 
6,200,000 metric tonnes 
4S~9,800.0Q0 metric-tonnes 

•Note: A 1 -million kilowatt plant generates enough electricity for a city of 560,000 people. 

•The annual fuel requirements of a 1 -million kilowatt powerplant operating at 75 percent of its 
theoretical annual capacity. 

the western United States, 
Australia, Canada, South Africa, 
and several other countries in Africa 
and South America (Figure 28). * 
^ , UrartiQm in nature, however, is 
, quite dilute, combined in small pro- , 
portion^ with other elements to 
make up such minerals as pitch- 
blende and carnotite; Natural 
uranium exists in an .oxide form (i.e. 
chemically combined with the ele- 
ment oxygen) and typically amounts 
\o only 0.1 to 0.2 percent of the raw 
ore. This means that a, ton of ore 
mined from the ground yields- at 
most only two to four pounds of 
uranium. But, uranium is more effi- 
cient than other fuel types (Table 2). 

A crude uranium oxide is 
extracted from the* ore at uranium ; 
rftiUs thatare geftecally located n$ar 
the mihes\Tha mills concentrate « „>', 
the uranium oxide by crushing^the 
oje into fine sand-like particles 
which are then put through 'such 
separation arid concentration pro- 

cesses as screening, flotation and 
gravity separation. The milling pro- 
cess leaves a large residue of liqujd 
sludge called "tailings" which is .< 
allowed to dry $nd collected in piles 
within enclosures. The tailings con- 
tain the elements thorium and 
radium which are mainly by- 
products of the decay of U-238. 
Tailingsjare no mote radioactive • 
than the ore that was removed from 
the earth; but since the material has 
been brought to tbe surface and/ 
•concentrated, it can pose a hazard 
unless covered by flsyers of earth or 
other forms of shielding to contain 
and stabilize it. ' 

The uranium oxide extracted 
from the milling operation is further 
refined and purified in other 
ch&rfcat processes. This material, 
called yellow cake, is then com- 
bined with fluorine gas to be 
transformed into uranium hexv 
afluoride gas (UF 6 ). In this form it is 
ready for enriching. 




Figure 29. in the U.S. Department oi Energy's gaseous diffusion enrichment plant in Tennessee, 
uranium in the form of uranium hexafkjorid* gas (UFt) is passed in stages through many porous 
Barriers. More than 1,200 stages are needed to produce uranium enriched to 3.0 percent U-235. 
(Credit: Department of Energy) 




Ft fl Uf * * tochnkw is working tfvougft a laboratory glove box to make precise 
^suwmrits of nucJw fuel pethts. The pallets are then Inserted in pendHNn tubes. (Credit- 
L/eperuyent of Energy) 

Enrichment and Fuel 

^ In the process of extracting the 
few pounds of uranium oxide that 
were present in the original ton of 
ore, impurities that would interfere 
with the fission process are 
chemically removed. But the 

uranium contains the natural pro- 
portion of isotopes: more than 99 
^percent is nonfissionable U-238, 
and only about 0.7 percent is the 
U-235 that can be used as fuel. 
Since a light-water reactor (LWR) 
requires that its uranium fuel con- 
tain about 3.0 percent U-235, the 
refined uranium must' be enriched in 
its fissionable isotope. 





Large-scale enrichment of 
uranium, which is one of the keys 
to most uses of nucSear energy, was 
made possible by the development 

x of the gaseous diffusion process. 
Large gaseous diffusion plants own- 
ed by Ihe U.S. Government make 
use.of the fact that a U-238 atom is 
about 1 percent heavier than a 
U-235 atom because it contains 

/three more neutrons (Figure 29). 

To enrich uranium, the gaseous 
form (UF 6 ) is piped into a gaseous 
diffusiop plant and pumped through 
Carriers that have microscopically 
small holes, less than 1 -millionth of 
a centimeter in diameter. Because 
the U-235 is slightly lighter than 
U-238, the U-235 passes through 
the holes more readily. Therefore, 
the gas that passes through a bar- 
rier in the diffusion plant has slight- 

v ly more U-235 than natural uranium; 
the gas left behind has slightly less. 

> After being pumped through a 
series of thousands of barriers, the 
end-product .gas teaches the 3.0 
percent enrichment level that is re- 
quired for nuclear powerplants. The 

.gas left behind has been stripped of 
its U-235 from 0.7 percent to less 
than 0.3 percent, and is known as 
depleted uranium. This depleted 
uranium cannot be used as fuel, but 
it has value as fertile material in 
breeder reactors. 

After tine uranium is enriched, it 
is chemically converted back into 
uranium oxide to be processed into 
fuel. The powdery oxide is 
compressed into small cylindrical . 
pellets and loaded and sealed into 
metal tubes to form the ftsel rods. 
Detailed inspection follows eyery 

step of this fabrication process 
(Figure 30). 

These fuel rods, about 12 feet 
Song, are grouped together in 
bundles known as fuel assemblies. 
The fuel rods are carefully spaced 
in the assemblies to allow a coolant 
to flow between them. The fuel 
assemblies am grouped together to 
make up the core of the reactor 
(Figure 31)- The nuclear fuel fis- 
sions and generates heat in the 
teactor, just as burning coal or oiJ 
generates heat in a boiler/ 



Nuclear Fuel: Reactor to Waste Disposal 

Aii operations involving radioac- 
tive materials— including nuclear 
powerpJants, hospitals, research 
centers and industrial processes — 
create radioactive wastes that must 
be safety handled and disposed of. 
The radioactive wastes are created 
in several difterent form's, ranging 
from only slightly radioactive to 
intensely radioactive, and they are 
handled in Afferent ways depending 

on their level of radioactivity, the 
amount Of heat they generate, and 
xrther factors. 

Handling Spent Fuel 

A 1 -million kilowatt nuclear 
power plant typically contains about 
100 tons of uranium fuel. Each year 
about one-third of the fuel — roughly 
33 tons, or 60 of its fuel bundles— 

Figure 32. lectin titans* use an undetwater periscope to inspect fuel 
pool. (Credit: Wisconsin Electric Power Co.) 

hues in the spent fuel 



Uranium Wn— And Mill* 

ToUF t 


Enriehmant-GuMus Diffusion 

Rrcovftfcd Uranium (Af UF») 

Plutonium (As PuO>) 

Wist* Repository 

' Pimm For 

msa spemfHisi 



Fual Fabrication 


Figure 33. 77*9 NuclBar Fuel Cycte 

must be removed and replaced. The 
used fuel is called spent fuel. 

As the spent fuel rods leave the 
plant, they are physically similar to 
the new fuel rods that were 
originally installed. They are still 
composed largely of U-238, more 
than 94 percent" by weight. The 
primary difference is that the U-235 
that released its energy in the reac- 
tor created radioactive fission 
products and other long-lived 
radioisotopes. Though they repre- 
sent a/small proportion of the spent 
fuel, only 3.5 percent, they Continue 
to generate heat and release radia- 
tion long after the fuel is 4 removed 
from the reactor. 

Most spent fuel from nuclear . 
powerpiants is stored in deep pools 
of water near the reactor (Figure . 
32). The water cools the fuel rods, 
to keep them from overheating, and 
it serves as an effective shield to 

protect workers from the radiation. 

The level of radiation begins 
declining immediately, and within 10 
years it has decayed by some 90 
percent. Nevertheless, some fission 
products remain radioactive for 
many years. Storage of the spent 
fuel in pools near the reactors is a 
temporary measure, until the fuel is 
shipped to long-term storage, to 
permanent waste repositories, or to 
reprocessfng plants. 

Reprocessed Wastes 

From the beginning of nuclear 
power use, it was assumed that the 
spent fuel would be chemically 
reprocessed to allow the stiK-usabie 
fuel to be recycled and to concen- 
trate the fission products into a 
smaller volume. (Figure 33). Fuel 
reprocessing technology has been 
developed and utilized in the United 





Rgur* 34. The Climax Spent Fuel Storage Test is being conducted to evaluate the effects of 
storing spent reactor fueLin a crystalline rock formation 1,400 feet below the surface of the 
Nevada Test Site. (Credit: Atomic Industrial Forum) 


States. It is now being used m 
several other countries. After a 
moratorium on commerical 
reprocessing imposed in 1977, the 
United States Government and 
industry are now studying the 
circumstances anc^ requirements 
under which resumption of 
reprocessing could bd considered. 

A reprocessing plant dissolves 
the fuel rods in acid and separates 
out the uranium and plutonium 
Isotopes from the fission products 
and cladding. The uranium can be 
fabricated into fresh reactor fuel, 
and the newly created plutonium - 
could be used in the advanced 
"breeder" reactor. 

After the chemical repro- 
cessing, the fission products exist in 
the form of a highly radioactive li- 
quid. That liquid can then be turned 
into a solid that has a volume 80 
percent less than the original spent 
fuel, thus requiring a smaller area 
for high-level waste disposal. < 

Handling and Disposing of 
High-Level Wastes 

High-level waste (HLW) is 
nuclear waste with a relatively high 
level of radioactivity. HLW comes 
from the reprocessing step after 
nuclear fuel is removed from a 
reactor; it has come to mean also 


the spent reactor fuel assemblies if 
they are not reprocessed 

The goal of safe waste disposal 
is to ensure that essentially no 
radioactive material from the waste 
ever reaches man or his environ- 
ment. The barriers that are 
designed to prevent the waste from 
reaching the environment include 
the form of the waste itself, its con- 
tainers, the ; packing around them, 
and the physical protection of the 
permanent repository, such as a 
deep geologic formation (Figure 34). 

Rflai* 35. Radioactive Wast* from thf nuclear fuet cycle cm be unmoMzed in glass for han- 
dling and disposal. The simulated waste glass shown is comprised of 25 percent high-level 
waste-type material and 75 percent non-radioactive glass Ingredients. The button on the left 
represents the annual quantity of high-level waste for one person If ail U.S. electricity were pro- 
duced by nuclear powwsJThe cylinder at right represents an individual's lifetime quantity. (Credit- 
Department of Energy) 


The first assurance that 
radioactive waste will not move from 
its repository to the environment lies 
in its very form: one of the most 
likely forms— based on decades of 
research and experience in the 
United States and abroad— is a 
special glass compound, like Pyrex. 
This compound called "borosilicate 
glass", combines silicon (an ingre- 
dient of sand) with boron oxide and 
other elements* ordinary glassware 
contains a higher percentage of 
silicon and lime instead of boron 

oxide, tn the borosilicate-glass form, 
the waste would be resistant to 

^ heat, chemical action, stress and 
radiation (Figure 36). 

The solid waste could then be 
sealed in waterproof, corrosion- m 

_ resistant steel containers about 10 
feet long and one foot in diameter. 
The waste containers would then be 
encased in a series of protective 
wrappings, including cases of metal, 
ceramic or cement and buffers that 
would absorb water and other 
chemicals before they reached the 
container. These additional barriers 
would further isolate the radio- 
activity from the environment. About 
a dozen of these special canisters , 
could hold ail the higfvlevel waste 
produced in a full-size\^ctear 
powerpfant in a year. ' 

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act 
of 1982 spells out a procedure and 
timetable for the site selection r con- 
struction and operation of HLW 
repositories, the first one to be* 
operable around the turn of the cen- 
tury. In addition to this strong com- 
mitment to permanent geologic 
disposal, it provides for a system of 
fees paid by utilities to fund waste 
disposal; a strong voice for States 
in the choice of siting; a limited, 
temporary federal storage program 
to alleviate near-term storage prob- 
iems at powerpiantsf and a study of 
monitored retrievable storage as an 
interim step toward permanent 

Handling and Disposing of 
Low-Level Wastes 

Low-level wastes (LLW) contain 
relatively little of the radioactive 


^■teansuranic elements. Most of this 
waste requires little or no shielding 
and no coding and may be handled 
by direct contact. 

Every organization that uses or 
produces radioactive materials, 
generates low-level wastes. In- 
dustrial users that manufacture 
.radiopharmaceuticals, smoke 
alarms, emergency exit signs, 
radium watch dials and other con- 
sumer goods produce low-ldvel 
wastes consisting of machinery 
parts, plastics and organic solvents. 

* About half of the total low-level 
waste generated today is from 
nuclear powerpiants. This includes 
used resins from chemical ion- 
exchange processes, filters and 
filter sludges, lubricating oils and 
greases, and detergent wastes from 
laundry operations and from decon- 
taminating personnel and equip- 
ment- Most of this waste is pro- 
cessed and packaged for disposal 
at a specially designed waste 

The common method of dispo- 
sing of low-level waste is to ship the 
wastes to a commercial disposal 
site where the containers of waste 
are buried in trenches. Low-level 
wastes pre packaged in 55-gallon or 
30-gaiion metal drums, or high- 
integrity casks, and shipped by 
truck to the disposal site, in accor- 
dance with regulations set by the 
Department of Transportation and 
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission 1 
(Figure 36). 

The dimensions of the trenches 
vary, depending on the soil and 
water conditions of the area. 
Typically, they might measure some 
600 feet long, about 60 feet in 


Figure 36. A 55-galfon drum of solid /ow-fevW waste Is loaded by crane into a tmOar for ship- 
ment to a LLW disposal site. (Credit: Atomic Industrial Forwn, Inc.) 

width, and 25 feet or more in depth. 
Each trench is filfed with waste 
drums and crates to about two- 
thirds of the trench depth. Then l 
several feet of soft and fill material 
are pfaced on top. When an entire 
trench has been completely, back- 
filled in this manner, -an 
impermeable "cap" of soil and 
sometimes compacted clay about 6 
feet deep is sealed on top of the 
trench, creating a contour that 
sheds surface water. 

After the trenches are filled and 
capped, their locations are outlined 
* * with permanent stone or metal 
markers which fist the amount and 
type of radioactivity in the trenches 
below. Then the closed trench is 
seeded with grass to restore 
vegetation cover and prevent 
erosion. Site operators and 

regulatory agencies conduct regular 
surveys to determine radiation 
levels at open and filled trenches 
and around the site boundaries. 

Changes in Low-Level Waste 

The current system for manage- • 
ment of low-level waste evolved 
over a period of time when disposal 
capacity was available and costs 
were low. Disposal capacity is now 
limited to three sites: Barnwell, 
South Carolina; Beatty, Nevada; * 
and Hanford, Washington. Two of 
the states have decided to cut back 
on the amount of waste they will 
accept from other states, and the 
Nevada facility is reaching its max- 
imum capacity. Furthermore, the 



volume of wastes generated is on 
the rise despite improved volume-, 
reduction techniques: in 1982 nearly 
3 million cubic feet of tow-level 
waste were shipped to commercial 
sites for disposal. Costs have risen 
as well, especially for transporting 
the wastaaamuch as-3vG0O unites 
to accommodate current volume 
ceilings at the existing disposal 

When Congress passed the 
Low-Level Waste Policy Act in 1S80, 
it set in motion major changes in 
the national low-level waste disposal 

• As of January 1 f 1986, each 
state will be responsible for 
providing its own disposal 
facilities for iow-ievei waste. 
That includes all fifty states 
and the District of Columbia. 

• The most efficient method 
would be through regional 
compacts, which would pro- 
vide a central disposal 
facility for several neighbor- 
ing states. Congress must 
endorse the creation of 
yach compact in advance 
and renew its approval 
every five years. 

*Atter January 1, 1986, any 
State can refuse* to accept 
low-level wastes from other 
states that are not members 
of its N regional compact. 
Essentially, this means that 
a stat^ must enter into a 
regional agreement, 
establish its own disposal 
facility N or stop generating 
low-lev^l wasjte. 



Vital services like electricity 
supply, medical diagnosis and treat- 
ment, and advancements made 
possible in research centers across 
the country depend on adequate 
low-level waste disposal capacity in 
the coming decades. 

52 * 

Transporting Radioactive Materials 

Each ytfar in the United St^£s 9 
some 500 billion shipments of com- 
modities are made by truck, rail,, 
barge, airplane, or other means. Of 
these about one in 5,000 contains 
materia! classified as hazardous. 
They include caustics and acids; 
toxic materials like pesticides and 
poisons; explosives, flammables, 
like gasoline and propane; cor- 
rosives; compressed gases; and 
radioactive materials. 

Radioactive materials account 
for about two percent of all hazar- 
dous materials shipped. Half of 
these Sre radionuclides used in the 
practice of nuclear medicine. The 
rest are mostly radioisotopes used 
in industciaf radiography, consumer 
products, and some industrial and 
scientific instrumentation. Radioac- 
tive materials involved in the opera- 

tion of -the Nation's nuclear 
powerplants account for only one 
quarter of one percent of all 
shipments of hazardous materials. 
(Table 3.) 

The safety record of shipping 
radioactive materials is weiP 
established. Only one-half of one 
percent of all 1 accidents in the ship- 
ment of hazardous materials' in- 
volves radioactive materials. (Table 
4.) Most of the accidents involve 
small packages of iow-ievel waste 
which contain little radioactivity. No 
deaths or serious injuries have ever 
been attributed to the radioactive 
nature of any materials involved in 
a transportation accident. 

>-^[nce radioactive materials are 
subject to the same transportation 
hazards as any other freight, th# 
regulations and procedures for ship- 

T*bJ« 3. Annual Shipments of Nuclear Materials in the United States 
Type of Material 

Exempt amount or limited radioactive level materials, e.g. smoke 
detectors, luminous signs or watches 

Pharmaceutical and other medical sources, mainly radioisotopes 
used for diagnosis and treatment 

industrial radiation sources, including gauges to measure thickness 
of paper, portable x-ray devices 1 . 

Nuclear materials used in the front end of the fuel cycle, including 
uranium, fresh fuels from fabrication plants, and a small amount of 
tnterpiant spent fuel 

Wastes from all industrial and medical sources other than nuclear <^ 

Nuclear powerplant wastes 

No. of Shipments/Year 






Source: Data courtesy of Robert Jefferson, Transportation Technology Center, Sandia National 
Laboratories; reprinted In "Understanding Radioactive Waste", Battefte Press, 1982. 



Tftbte 4. Flv-Y*arJotaJ ot Hazardous Materials incident Reports 9 
In tha UfUfrd States by Classification 

„ t >JH No- of Percent 

Classification Reports of Total 

RammabJe Hquid 16,406 51,27 

Corrosive material 

Poisons, Class B 2,026 6.32 

Flammable clompf eased gas 718 2.24 

Oxidizing materia] 544 2 01 

Nonflammable compressed gas 535 1 57 

"Miscellaneous and unknown 472 1,47 

FlammaWasoHd ' \ 183 0.57 

Radioactive material ^\ 144 0 45 

Explosives V^22 0.38 

Combustible liquid \ 69 / 0.21 

/ 0.08 

Total 32,018 100.00 

Poisons, Class A 


*The figures in this table refer onty to accidents that are reported to the Department of 
Transportation. Some events of sach type fail to be reported. 

Source: Department of Transportation Report DOT/RSPA/MTB-79/8; reprinted in "Understand- 
ing Radioactive Waste", Battalia Press, 1982. 

ping them are governed by two 
thoughts: First, the methods for 
shipping radioactive materials from 
one location to another should 
minimize the chance that an acci- 
dent will occur. Second, the 
radioactive materials should be 
packaged in such a way that no 
radiation will be released even if an 
accident should occur. Traditionally, 
the primary safety factor is the ship- 
ping container itself, which ensures 
against leakage and prevents 
accidents or sabotage. 


Spent Fuel Shipments 

H Fuel assemblies are removed 
from the reactor after about three 
yeafsTfrnhis poinit, the used or 
"spent fue^gssejnbjiee-are highly 
radioactive. They are removed to 
storage soots of water near the 
reactor wnere they We held for a 
time to aJ&w their radioactivity to 
decay andilheir hea) to diminish 
before shipment. After a period of 
time, the spent fuel Assemblies may 

1 >• 

s •••.'TV? 

Figure 38* To test. the durability of a 22-/on container used to transport spent nuclear fuel, 
technicians at the Department of Energy's Sandia Laboratories in New^Aexico mounted the cask 
on the bed qf an expendable tractor-trailer. The rig was than loaded onto the Lab's rocket sled 
and stemmed into a 104oot thick concrete wall at 60 mph. Although the truck was tetany 
demolished, the container suffered only a slight dent at one end but no part of the oask cracked 
open. A high-speed camera recorded the- moment of impact and scattering wreckage 
Immediately following. (Credit: Sandia Laboratories} 

be shipped in massive protective 
containers by truck or rail to a 
reprocessing facility (to extract still 
usable fuel), to a permanent 
disposal site, or to another storage, 

Each nuclear pqwerptant 
annually produces the equivalent of 
approximately 25 fruckioads or 10 
rasicars of spent fu^l (Figure 37). 
Since 1964, over 4,000 spent fuel 
assemblies have been shipped from 
reactor sites to other locations, 
incfflding two reprocessing plants. 
Today, however, there are no 
operational reprocessing plants or 
permanent disposal sites for com- 
mercial spent^tuel, so such 
shipments are not taking place. 

The shipping containers for 
spent fuel are rigorously designed/ 
manufactured and tested— Figure 

38 shows one cask design. In 
another cask design, the fuel 
assemblies are sealed into a water- 
filled stainless steel cylinder with 
wails one-half inch thick, clad with 
four inches of heavy metal 
shielding* enclosed by a shell of 
inch-and-a-half steel plate, sur- 
rounded by five inches of -water, 
and encircled by a corrugated 
stainless steel outer jacket. The 
overall package measures 5 feet by 
17 feet and weighs 70 tons. 

The shipping cask is required 
by the Nuclear Regulatory Commis- 
sion to withstand a series of acci- 
dent conditions: 

• a 30-foot fall on a flat, hard 
surface (as if the cask drop- 
ped from an overpass onto 
a concrete highway) 



• a 40-inch drop onto*a metal 
pin 6-inches in diameter (as 
if the cfSk hit a shftrp cor- 
ner of a bridge abutment) 

; • a 30-minute exposure to a 
fire at a temperature of 
1475°F (as if a tank of 
gasoline ruptured in an acci- 
dent and a fire ensued) 

• complete immersion in three 
feet of water for eight hours 
(as if the cask rolled off into 
a creek along the highway) 

The container must undergo 
these destructive forces 7ft 9 
sequence with no breach of contain- 
ment and with no significant reduc- 
tion in shielding. 

Road experiments designed tp 
confirm the integrity of the spent 
fuel cask have been carried out yd 
in all cases the safety requirements 
have been met or exceeded. 

Transporting High- and Low- 
Level Wastes 

Concentrated fission products, 
or high-level waste, are the most 
radioactive components of spent 
tuei. They result from reprocessing 
operations which can separate tfp 
radioactive waste from reusable 
tuel. When commercial reprocessing 
becomes available again and per- 
manent waste disposal facilities 
begin operation in the United 
- States, these wastes will be shipped 
to a permanent disposal site. 

Before the high-level wastes 
/from a reprocessing plant can be 
shipped, they will be transformed 
from a liquid Jo a solid. By solidify- 

ing the waste in canisters and plac- 
ing them in shielded, hardened con- 
tainers, the integrity of the wastes is 
assured under virtually all transpor- 
tation conditions. 

Low-level wastes contain small 
amounts of radioactive materials 
that generally do not require 
shielding during transportation. 
Most often they are shipped by 
truck in compacted solid form 
-placed in sealed drums. A commer- 
cial nuclear reactor generates from 
16 to 45 truckloads of low-level 
waste each year. 

Shipping Procedures and 
Regulatory Responsibilities 

The Department of Transporta- 
tion (DOT) has general authority for . 
regulating the transportation of 
hazardous materials, including 
radioactive materials. Its regulations 

• packaging, marking and 
labeling radioactive 
materials shipments 

• mechanical conditions for 
carriers and qualifications of 
carrier personnel 

• loading, unloading, handling 
and storage 

The Nuclear Regulatory Com- 
mission is responsible for licensing 
and regulating all commercial users 
and handlers of radioactive 
materials, including waste shippers 
and carriers. 

Shipping procedures are ' 
designed to assure that radioactive 
materials are transported carefully. 
In shipping low-level waste, for 




example, truck drivers must meet 
basic mechanical knowledge of 
equipment and driving performance 
requirements, and are responsible 
for truck inspection and 
maintenance of vehicle logs. DOT 
requires that appropriate markers 
be placed on the truck to designate 
the potential radiation hazard of the 
kinds of waste carried. The 
transporter selects a specific route 
to the low-level waste disposal site 
before departure and notifies state 
authorities of the route chosen. 

Shipments of spent fuel require, 
further precautions. The NRC and 
focal iaw enforcement agencies 
along the <mjte are , notified before t 
eacfr shipment. A communication 
center remains in touch with the 
transport vehicle and moqifors its 
progress. > 

The Economics of Nuclear Power 

Do nuclear electric plants cost 
more than other types of 
powerplants, or do they save money 
for the electricity consumer? Sur- 
prisingly perhaps, the answer to 
both questions can be yes. 

Just as you may spend more 
money for a car that gets better 'gas 
mileage, so that it actually saves > 
you money over the life of the car, 
utilities spend more money to con- 
struct nuclear electric plants 
because the fuel costs are so much 
tower than .for plants that burn coaf. 
(Oil and natural gas have become 
too valuable and expensive to burn 
in nefr^goQerating plants.) Because 
of the considerable difference in 
fuel costs, nuclear plants result in a 
savings to consumers in many parts 
of the country, particularly in areas 
like the Northeast that do not have 
coal mines nearby. i 

The cost of electricity frorl|a 
generating plant is made up of% 
three parts: 

• the cost of fuel (coai, oil, 
gas or nuclear fuel) and the 
disposal of the residue (ash 
or nuclear waste); 

• operation and maintenance 
costs (largely wages and 
salaries plus tools and 
equipment); and 

• powerpiant capital cost (cost 
of design, engineering, and 
construction including fac- 
tory equipment, tools, in- 
terest on the capital, etc.) 

Actual generating costs depend 
on several factors that can vary 
considerably: the location of the 
plant, the fuel choice, environmental 

protection equipment, anc^the 
length of time that iMakeskto build 
the plant. Perhaps most important 
of all, the, costs depend or\ the time 
frame over which the plant was 
built. The higher interest and infla- 
tion rates of the past few years 
have raised the construction costs 
of nuclear and coal plants alike by 
some 15 percent a year, making 
new electric power stations much 
more expensive than those built a 
few years earlier. 

Capital costs of electric 
generating plants are expressed in 
terms of dollars per kifowatt of in- 
stalled ca#acity. For example, a 
1,000-kilowatt plant that had a total 
capital cost of $500,000 would be 
described as costing $500 per 
kilowatt. In these terms alone, 
nuclear energy has always been on 
the expensive side. In the late 
1960's nuclear plants were pro- 
jected to cost about $150 per 
kilowatt, and coal plants about 
$120. After years of inflation, cur- 
rent projections for plants that 
would begin operating at the end of 
the 1980 f s estimate that nuclear 
electric plants would cost some 
$2,400 per kilowatt, and coai about 
$1,600. That means a 1 -million 
kilowatt nuclear plant would cost 
about $2,4 billion, and a coai plant 
that size would cost some $1,6 
billion by the time it could be 

Nuclear plants, however, begin 
saving money shortly after they go 
into service because of their lower 
fuel costs. While every utility system 
is a unique case, one of the most 
useful comparisons of nuclear and 
fossil costs can be seen on the 





Commonwealth Edison electric 
system in the Chicago area. That . 
utility has six large nuclear plants 
and ?&x large coal plants of roughly 
the same size and dates of con- 
struction. In 1982 the electricity 
from the coal and nuclear plants 
cost about the same. Ttit principal 
difference between them is the cost 
of the fuel. The fuel amounted to 54 
percent of the total cost of the coal- 
generated electricity, but only 19 
percent of the cost of nuclear 
power. t v 

* Although the differences are . 
not necessarily this dramatic in all 
parts of the country,, nuclear plants 
show a slight economic edge in 
total generating costs. Nationwide, 
nuclear plants generated*8lectricity 
at a cost of 26 mills per kilowatt 
hour in 1981 t ; for coal plants, the 
cost was 29 mills. Even though oil- 
fired plants are much less expen- 
sive to build than eittjer nuclear or 
coal plants, the costs of the fuel 
itself make their electricity costs 
considerably higher. 

Estimated costs of electricity 
from new powerplants in the future, 
continue to show that both nuclear 
and coal will generate electricity at 
about the same cdk but at a much 
lower cost than^ne alternative fuels 
such as oil. These projections 
depend on several unknowns— the 
future inflation rate, interest costs, 
regulatory processes, pollution con- 
trol equipment, fuel costs, and 
demand for power. 

It's important to remember that 
the current nuclear cost advantage 
is in comparison to coal plants built 
at the same time. As long as the 
United States is in a period of high 

interest, high inflation, rising fuel 
costs and lengthy regulatory pro- 
cesses, electricity from any new ^ 
electric plant— whether nuclear or 
coal— will no doubt be more expen- 
sive than from older plants. This 
means that every new generating 
unit tends to raise the cost of elec- 
tricity to consumers. 

Utilities, electricity rate payers, 
and bond holders have an enor- 
mous investment in the nuclear 
powerplants that are now operating 
or being built. The steadily rising 
capital costs of electric plants are 
adding new pressures to electric 
utilities: instead of paying 
$100-$150 million for a 1 -million 
kilowatt electric plant, as they did in 
the mid-1 960's, utilities must now 
commit upwards of $2 billion. The 
pressures associated with raising 
that much capital, paying the carry- 
ing charges, and seeking increases 
in electric rates to pay for these 
costs have steered many utilities 
away from a "build-and-grow" 
philosophy, instead they are en- 
couraging energy efficiency and 
conservation programs to slow 
down the rate at which they must 
build new central station generating 

Even with better managed 
growth in electric demand, more 
generating plants will most probably 
be required in most areas of the\ 
country. Why? Because the coun- 
try's population continues to grow; 
old powerplants need to be 
replaced; the economy— which is 
extremely dependent on energy- 
continues to expand, even if not as 
rapidly as in the past; and many • 
energy users are continuing to shift 


from direct oil use to other 
substitutes, including electricity. 
This anticipated increase will extend 
the need for new powerplants that 
generate electricity at a cost com- 
petitive with other available fuel 

Nuclear Electricity in Other Countries 

in September 1956 two nuclear 
electric plants, Caider Hall 1 and 2, 
in Northern England began opera* 
tion, becoming the world's first com- 
mercial nuclear generating station. 
Because of its dependence on 
, imported oil, Great Britain turned to 
nuclear power earlier than other 
countries. The wisdom of this deci- 
sion was dramatized when the Suez 
Canal crisis erupted only weeks 
after Caider Hall had started up. m 
The UK presently has about 30 
nuclear powerplants (gas cooled) in 
operation, generating 16.5% of the 
country's electricity in 1982. 

Today most industrialized , 
nations are Operating or building 
nuclear plants for similar reasons^- 
lack of enough locally owned fuel 
resources and concern over 
Imported oil. Several nations- 
France, Switzerland, Sweden, 
Belgium, Taiwan, Finland, J^pan, 
. and West Germany— generate a 
larger proportion of their electricity 
from nuclear energy than does the 
United States. 

As of March 31 , 1983, the 220 
nuclear plants operating in 24 coun- 
tries outside the United States pro- 
vided more than 9 percent of the 
world's electricity (Table 5). More 
than 360 other nuclear plants are 
under construction or being 
planned, which would bring the tot& 
nuclear generating capacity in other 
countries to some 440 million 
kilowatts— which is equal to the 
entire U.S. electrical capacity as 
recently as 1973. 

Throughout the 1970s France 
conducted the world's most 
aggressive nuclear development 
program. France was relying on 

imported oU for more than 65 per- 
cent of her energy needs when oil 
prices quadrupled in the early 
1970s. France turned to her one 
abundant energy resource, uranium, 
and developed a policy of "tout 

. nucleaire" — or "all nuclear/' vowing 
that no more coal- or oil-fired elec- 
tric plants would be built. By the 
end of the decade France was 
operating 22 nuclear powerplants 
and bringing new ones into service 
at an average of one every two 
months (Figure 39). France's 
nuclear program is the third largest 
in the world after those of the 
United States and the Soviet Union 
and first in percentage of electricity 
needs satisfied by nuclear reactors. 
Nuclear energy is expected to pro- 
vide more than 40 percent of 
France's electricity in the 1990§. 

As of March 31 , 1983, the 
Soviet Union was operating 40 
nuclear electric plants and providing 
some 18 million kilowatts of capac- 
ity, The USSR expects to generate 
10. percent of its electricity from 
nuclear power in 1985 and 25 per- 
cent in 1990. 

Japan, which brought its first 
nuclear powerplant into servfce in 
1966, now operates 25 (Figure 40). 

- They provide 17 million kilowatts of 
capacity or about 12 percent of the 
nation's total electrical capability. 
One of its giants, Fukushima, is the 
largest nuclear generating facility in 
the world, with six reactors 
representing a total of 4.7 million 
kilowatts. By 1990 Japan expects to 
have increased its nuclear power 
program to 53 million kilowatts, or 
about 23 percent of the national 
electric capacity. 



Table 5. Nuckw Powafptonts Outskfy the United Slates 
(as of March 31, 1983) 

Reactor Status 

In Operation 
Under Construction 











Germany, Democratic 

Republic of 
Germany, Federal ' 

Republic of ./ 
Hungary * 

No. of Kilowatts 



No. of Nuclear Units 



Foreign Countries with Operating Reactors 

No. of Operatir^Units No. of Units Under Construction 



Japan / 
Korea, Republics? 

The Netherlands 
Union of Soviet 

Socialist Republics 
United Kingdom 

























5ourc«: tntsmSlonal Atomic Energy Agency 




France and Belgium share equally the power generated by the Wtange*1 Nuclear 
Shown here during construction, the 970,000 kilowatt facWty has been operating 
since^ty. whang* is a PWR whose major components war* manufactured in. Europe. (Credit: 
Atomic TMusiriai Forum) 

Figure 40. The 100,000 ktiowatt reactor, Joyo, near MHo, Japan, is a HqukJ metal fast breeder 
reactor which achieved critically In 1977. Other facilities planned for the Japanese LMFBR pro- 
gram are the 300,000 kilowatt Monju prototype demonstration plant and a 1,500,000 kOowatt 
commercial plant (Credit: Department of Energy) 




Electricity generated by nuclear 
energy has grown from a small ex- 
perimental scale only 30 years ago 
to its current position as a signifi- 
cant component of the energy sup- 
ply of tH& United States and most of 
the industrialized world. Because of 
the increasing costs of oil and 
natural gas, it is generally agreed 
that nuclear energy and coal are 
now the only two energy sources 
that are available economically for 
large new electric powerplants. 

The future of nuclear power in 
the United States will depend large- 
ly on economic factors and energy 
policies yet to be determined, ff the 
demand for electricity continues to 
increase as a result of economic 
growth, and if shifts from our heavy 
reliance on imported oil are 
necessary, nucfear energy offers 
the potential for centuries of electric 
power that does not further deplete 
our finite fossil fuel supply. Even 
the current level of nuclear plants in 
operation ; and under construction 
around the country indicates that, 
as a minimum, nuclear energy will 
generate a significant 4hare of our 
electric power until well into the 
21st century. 

Selected References 

Books ^ 

• Nuclear Power 'Issues and \ k 
Choices, Ford Foundation/Mitre 
Corporation, Bailinger Publishing 
Co., Cambridge, Mass. 02138, 
1977, 418 pp., $6.97. 

• Understanding theJSluclear Reac- 
tor, Andrew W. Kramer, 
Technical Publishing Co., Bar- 
ringtop, III., 1970, 111 pp., 

• A Guidebook to Nuclear Reac- 
tors, Anthony V. Nero Jr., 
University of California Press, 
Berkeley, Cal. 94720, 1979, 289 
pp., $9.95. 

• Environmental Radioactivity, Mer- 
ril Eisenbud, Acaderqic Press, 
Nfcw York, N.Y., 1973, 529 pp M 

• Understanding Radioactive 
Waste, Raymond L. Murray, Bat- 
telle's Pacific Northwest 
Laboratory, U.S. Department of 
Energy, Battelie Press, Colum- 
bus Ohio, 43201, 1982, 120 pp., 

Reports and Articles 

• ' 4 Nuclear Power from Fission • 
Reactors: An Introduction," the 
Assistant Secretary for Nuclear 
Energy, U.S. Department of 
Energy, Washington, D.C., 1982, 
21 pp M DOE/NE-0029. Available 
free from the Technical Informa- 
tion Center P.O. Box 62, Oak 
Ridge, TN 37830. 

• " Annual Re 
Energy Info 

)rt to Congress/' 
jation Administra- 


tion, U.S. Department of Energy, 
Washington, D.C. 20546. 

• "Nuclear Reactors Built, Being 
Built, or Planned in the. U.S.," 
Technical Information Centef 
(TIC), U,S,\Department of- r 
Energy, twicra yearly. Contact 
TIC, P.O. BAk 62, Oak Ridge, 
TN 37830. \ 

• "Energy Resources Available to 
the United State?, 1978 to 
2000," Earl T. Hkyes, Science 
magazine, January 1979, pp. 

• "the Need for Chatfbe: It 
Legacy orTMl," report^ 
President's Commission 6( 
Accident at Three Mile Island^ 
October 1979, 179 pp., Goven 
ment Printing Office No. 

• 4 'Economics of Nuclear Powei\ 
A. D. Rossin and T.A. Rieck^V 
Science magazine, August 1978. 

• "Report to the President by the * 
Interagency Review Group on 
Nuclear Waste Management," 
Directorate of Energy Research, 
U.S. Department of Energy, 
March 1979, 149 pp., $10.75. 
Available from the National 
[Technical Information Service, 
5285 Port Royal Rd., Springfield, 
Va. 22161. 


• Electricity— The Way it Works (16 
mm, color, 16 minutes, 1976). 
This film explains thfe generation 
and transmission of electricity 
and includes reports on sucb 


alternative fuels as coal, 
hydropower, nuclear energy, the 
sun and wind. Available for 
preview from Screen News • 
Digest, 235 E.^th Street, New 
York, N.Y. 10017.. 

The Paradox of Plenty (16 mm, 
color 22 minutes, 1977). This 
film features Don Herbert, also 
known as "Mr. Wizard," tracing 
the history of our energy 
sources. It focuses on the pre- 
sent choices for electric power , 
generation — coal and uranium. 
Available for preview from The 
Magic Lantern, Carlton Center, 
925 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, 
Pa. 15222. 





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