Used by more than 30 countries worldwide and even powering the Mars Rover, nuclear power generates around 14% of the worlds electricity from over 400 nuclear power plants around the globe.
Turning the clock back to 1905, Einstein discovered that mass could be changed into energy and vice versa, as explained in his famous mathematical formula E=mc2. Progressing the way for helping to keep the lights on, Sir Ernest Rutherford in 1918 showed that atoms could be split and by 1942, the world had its first nuclear reactor.
Leading the way with nuclear power are the US, France and Japan, who together account for 57% of the global electricity generated through this medium. Back in the UK, we also rely heavily on this source with it providing around 19% of our energy production. As an industry, it also provides employment to more than 63,000 skilled people within the country.
The environmental credentials are one of the key benefits to nuclear power, just one ton of natural uranium can produce more than 40 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, the equivalent to burning 16,000 tons of coal or 80,000 barrels of oil. The only emitted by-product coming from this being water vapour.
Nuclear power can come from the fission of uranium, plutonium, thorium or the fusion of hydrogen into helium with uranium being the source commonly relied on today. The fission of one single atom of uranium produces 10 million times the energy produced by the combustion of an atom of carbon from coal.
In your standard nuclear power plant, nuclear fission is used to literally tear atoms apart. In a very controlled reactor chamber, this technology is used to split Uranium atoms into two smaller atoms.
When this occurs, the new smaller atoms don’t require as much energy and thus release the excess energy off as massive amounts of heat. In turn, this heat is used to raise water to a boiling point, generate steam, and drive a turbine, thus providing round-the-clock energy while releasing only one by-product out of this, harmless water vapour.
Britain's first new nuclear plant in a generation is estimated to come into operation around 2025 and the IQ study tour were kindly accommodated at a recent site visit which gave an eye-opening insight to the scale and level of construction that is involved in this project.
The Hinkley Point C construction project in Somerset, is set to house 2 nuclear reactors and once complete will produce enough low carbon electricity to power around 6% of the UK’s electricity requirements.
The construction costs alone are anticipated to run to around £16 billion and take close to a decade to complete, during the construction phases around 25,000 job opportunities will be created along with 900 permanent positions across the anticipated 60-year life of the station.
Currently underway is the excavation of around four million cubic meters of earth from the north of the site to house the power stations two reactors and for the construction of a sea jetty, which will facilitate around 80% of the construction materials to be delivered to site, one of the numerous measures in place to ease any impact on the road network, which will also be receiving £16 million in improvements.
The current phase of work will also see the beginning of the tunnelling for the three-water inlet and outlet structures under the Severn estuary, which extend out by over 2 miles and will aid in the cooling process.
Completion of the excavation works will see the main civil construction works begin where around 3 million tonnes of concrete will be poured to ensure suitable foundations are in place for the power station, putting that into perspective is the equivalent of 75 times more concrete than was used to build the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.