Hot new fuel for nuclear reactors

Before i delve in to the implication of what the following article means, let me give you a brief introduction about Nuclear fuel and how we produce power. This is for the uninitiated and i provide this in a hope to write more technically and to help you learn something new today.

First, you have the reactor core, loaded with nuclear fuel. Neutrons induce fission in a fuel element and once a fission occurs, it releases 2-3 more neutrons. If you can capture those fission neutrons and induce more fission, you end up with a sustaining chain reaction.

Now each fission reaction releases about 200 Mev of energy. That’s exactly 3.204E-11 Joules. That’s freakin miniscule but when we have enriched uranium with atomic densities > 1E22(btw, this is normal. Parallel : 1Kg of H2 has 6E23 atoms !), you could end up with net energies of about 3E11 J/s. This energy conducts out from the fuel, since there is a coolant flow in the core outside the pellet. Depending on the coolant’s heat capacity, some amount of heat is carried away by the coolant to the turbines, where with an awesome 30% efficiency, the heat is converted to power !

And that is a short gist of how Nuclear power is produced.

Now, back to my post. Here’s an article i read at NS. Look what it says below.

A Fuel pellet that is 50 per cent better at conducting heat will make nuclear power cheaper and more efficient, its developers claim.

Engineers from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, added beryllium oxide to the standard uranium oxide pellets used in light water reactors. Because uranium oxide does not conduct heat well, pellets made of it tend to crack and degrade as the temperature of the reactor core rises and falls, and this means they have to be replaced before all the fuel has been used. Beryllium oxide is a better conductor of heat, so it allows the fuel pellet to cool more efficiently, says Alvin Solomon, who led the research. This means the combined pellet lasts much longer than the standard one.

This would mean a higher heat conduction out of the fuel to the coolant. If we use good coolants, like liquid metals, then we could extract more heat out and generate more power as a result. Since we are energy greedy beings by nature, this research has great value and potential in reducing the energy craving !