The Thermal Power Plant is Fast Becoming Untenable, and Nuclear Fission Seems Set to Replace It
Toxic emissions from fossil fuels consumed by thermal power plants threaten the earth’s future. Many now believe a transition to nuclear power is crucial. Since humans first developed the ability to generate electricity in a form that could be used to power lighting, household appliances and industrial machinery with the flip of a switch, public and commercial demand has continued to increase by orders of magnitude. This technology was the disruptive force that replaced steam to give birth to a second industrial revolution.
Although hydroelectric schemes around the world generate significant amounts of power and wind farms and solar panel technology are gaining traction, most of the world’s electricity is still produced by burning coal, oil or gas. The repeated incidents of unprecedented extreme weather are proof enough that those who postulated a link between atmospheric pollution and global warming and its consequences were spot on. Research has yet to produce a perfect alternative, and until it does, the nuclear power station appears to be the most practical alternative.
How Does a Thermal Power Plant Differ From a Nuclear Reactor?
If one were to be completely pedantic, the short answer is that the two are actually pretty similar and depend on generating heat. While one burns coal, diesel or natural gas to produce heat, the other relies on the heat produced by the controlled fission of uranium. After that, the thermal energy is utilised in much the same fashion by both types of power plants. While the precise layout may vary, both employ the heat produced to boil water and generate steam at high pressure. The pressurised steam then provides the motive power to drive a turbine which, in turn, causes the rotary action of an AC generator, transforming kinetic energy into electrical current.
That said, while the primary modus operandi of these two systems is essentially identical, other aspects of their operation differ significantly in two vital respects, as follows:
- A Nuclear Plant is More Eco-Friendly: Many would question this assertion based on the lengthy half-life of spent uranium and the stringent precautions necessary for the handling and safe disposal of nuclear waste. However, only excess steam from their boilers is released into the atmosphere, and effective containment measures ensure that ionising radiation from the reactor’s core poses no threat to workers or the area surrounding a nuclear power station.
By contrast, the emissions from a thermal power plant contain high concentrations of several toxic chemicals. For example, a typical coal-fired plant emits various oxides of nitrogen and sulphur plus airborne, inorganic particulate matter like soot and fly ash. In addition, they also produce high levels of methane, carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming and the current wave of extreme weather.
- Nuclear Power is an Inherently Safer Option: This claim will also likely provoke some challenges. Many people associate these plants with the horrific and long-lasting effects of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Others will be quick to cite the more recent events at Chornobyl and Fukushima as valid grounds to ban the use of nuclear reactors to generate electricity. However, although their fears are understandable, they are largely unfounded.
The Chornobyl incident arose due to design flaws in the Russian-built plant, exacerbated by inadequately trained operators failing to rectify a temporary malfunction. Remarkably, only 31 people appear to have lost their lives. At Fukushima, one operator later died of lung cancer from radiation exposure whilst on the premises. However, nobody died as a direct result of earthquake damage to the power station.
By contrast, coal-, LPG- or oil-fired thermal power plants are responsible for thousands of operator deaths every year. Not surprisingly, experts agree that nuclear power remains the best way forward unless there is a sudden breakthrough in fusion technology.
Effective Operator Training Remains Vital for Both Nuclear and Thermal Power Plants
Service providers will need to recruit and train thousands of new operators in the race to build additional plants to keep pace with the growing electricity demand. However, providing practical instruction on the job can further increase the danger of accidents and deaths. Simulations offer a faster, safer and more effective option and are available for both types of plants. Contact SimGenics today to learn more about their products and ensure your trainees will be the best they can be.