Physicist Enrico Fermi first discovered the potential of nuclear fission in 1934, when he bombarded uranium atoms with neutrons and was surprised to discover that the products of this reaction were much lighter than uranium. In 1942, Fermi created the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction, using uranium and control rods in a similar configuration to how they are used today.
The UK's first test reactor was built in 1947 at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Harwell to demonstrate the viability of commercial power reactors. The world's first commercial nuclear reactor, Calder Hall 1 was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. This was the first station anywhere in the world to produce electricity from atomic energy on a full industrial scale.
At the peak in 1997, 26% of the nation's electricity was generated from nuclear power. Since then a number of reactors have closed. The UK now has 16 reactors generating about 18% of its electricity. We also have full fuel cycle facilities including major reprocessing plants. Nuclear energy is also widely used around the globe; there are currently over 430 commercial power reactors operable in 31 countries. About 70 more reactors are under construction.
WHAT IS NUCLEAR POWER?
Nuclear power stations convert heat energy produced from a nuclear fission chain reaction into electricity. Heat generated inside a nuclear reactor core from nuclear fission is used to convert water into steam, which then drives an electric turbine alternator. As the turbine spins it produces alternating current (AC) electricity which is supplied to the national electricity grid. The steam is recondensed into water, usually by external seawater cooling and then recirculated back inside the reactor. For cooling reasons nuclear reactors are normally constructed near the coastline. Nuclear reactors built inland must be sited near large rivers and also generally use cooling towers.
Most nuclear electricity is generated using just two kinds of reactors which were developed in the 1950s and improved since. The main design is the Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) which has water at over 300 °C under pressure in its primary cooling/heating transfer circuit, and generates steam in a secondary circuit. The less numerous Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) makes steam in the primary circuit above the reactor core, at similar temperatures and pressure. Both types use water as both coolant and moderator, to slow neutrons. Since water normally boils at 100'C, they have robust steel pressure vessels or tubes to enable the higher operating temperature.
New reactor designs are also now coming forward and some are in operations as the first generation reactors come to the end of their operating lives. These include Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs), Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) and Fast Neutron Reactors (FNRs).
ADVANTAGES OF NUCLEAR POWER
- It doesn't contribute to carbon emissions as no CO2 is given out, therefore it does not cause global warming,
- It does not produce smoke particles to pollute the atmosphere.
- Nuclear energy is by far the most concentrated form of energy - a lot of energy is produced from a small mass of fuel
- It is reliable and does not depend on the weather.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Nuclear power is mainly generated using Uranium, which is a metal mined in various parts of the world. Uranium is a naturally occurring element with an average concentration of 2.8 parts per million in the Earth's crust. Traces of it occur almost everywhere. It is more abundant than gold, silver or mercury, about the same as tin and slightly less abundant than cobalt, lead or molybdenum. Vast amounts of uranium also occur in the world's oceans, but in very low concentrations.
Uranium mines operate in some twenty countries, though in 2011 some 52% of world production comes from just ten mines in six countries. Some uranium is also recovered as a by-product with copper, as at Olympic Dam mine in Australia, or as by-product from the treatment of other ores, such as the gold-bearing ores of South Africa, or from phosphate deposits such as Morocco and Florida. Generally speaking, uranium mining is no different from other kinds of mining unless the ore is very high grade. Searching for uranium is in some ways easier than for other mineral resources because the radiation signature of uranium's decay products allows deposits to be identified and mapped from the air.
Thorium is a possible alternative source of nuclear fuel, but the technology for using this is not established. Thorium requires conversion to a fissile isotope of uranium actually in a nuclear reactor. However, supplies of thorium are abundant, and the element currently has no commercial value. Accordingly, the amount of resource is estimated rather than directly measured as with uranium.
WHERE IS IT USED?
Nuclear power stations operate in 31 countries. France, Belgium and Slovakia use them as their primary source of energy. Many other countries also have a significant nuclear power generation capacity.
WHY CHOOSE A CAREER IN NUCLEAR?
The UK's nuclear industry is facing its biggest challenge in decades. Existing power stations near the end of their working lives are ready to be decommissioned, while a new wave of plants has been given the go ahead. Nuclear is back on the agenda. Thousands of new jobs are expected, alongside a host of new qualifications and training to provide the necessary skills. There has never been a more exciting time to consider a career in this area. Reasons to join the industry include:
- The industry faces unprecedented demand for people with the right skills to support both the construction and operation of the new generation of nuclear power stations and the decommissioning of legacy assets.
- Careers in this sector are long-term, rewarding and highly skilled.
- A huge majority of the employees working in the industry are almost at retirement age. This means that the industry is in a hiring phase like we have not seen for decades.
- Unlike in other business sectors, nuclear decommissioning contractors cannot respond to a limited supply of engineering staff by importing candidates from other countries. This is partly because strict security requirements mean that foreign nationals, even from EU countries, are not eligible for the majority of jobs in the nuclear sector. Therefore salaries for those with relevant experience and suitable work eligibility in the nuclear sector have seen huge pay increases.
- There are opportunities available around the globe.
WHAT PERSONNEL ARE IN DEMAND WHO SHOULD CONTACT US?
The UK alone has a major resource shortage across all disciplines due to planned construction of new build reactors and the decommissioning challenges that we face over the next few years; there are numerous roles available in nuclear across a diverse range of skillsets. You should contact us if you believe you would like to transfer to this industry, demand means there are likely to be opportunities regardless of your background.
Typically the following personnel can transfer with ease with a little assistance:
Project Managers, Project Engineers, Process engineers and designers, Piping engineers and designers, Electrical engineers and designers, Mechanical engineers and designers, Structural engineers and designers, Instrumentation engineers and designers, Safety personnel, Health Physics personnel, Technical Safety engineers, planning engineers, commercial officers, document controllers, HR personnel, admin personnel.
With the challenges faced in the decommissioning of old nuclear facilities around the UK and the government committed to Nuclear Power as part of the low carbon mix of our future energy supply, a career in the Nuclear industry is a life-long, exciting career with many prospects for development.
TALK TO US ABOUT GETTING AHEAD OF THE GAME AND HOW WE CAN ASSIST YOU IN YOUR TRANSFERTO THE NUCLEAR ENERGY INDUSTRY.
- In most instances no training will be required prior to placement; we will put you in touch with employers happy to engage you with your current skills and qualifications.
- We can advise on training and assist with placing you on a relevant course should training be required.