Nuclear Fission Power Plants

  • Ronald Allen Knief


In terms of technical progress of the human species/society, the second half of the twentieth century is marked by two developments: the computer and nuclear energy. And the two are related since progress in the development and applications of nuclear energy owes a lot to the power of computations made possible by the digital computer.


Fuel Assembly Nuclear Regulatory Commission Nuclear Power Reactor Decay Heat Steam Cycle 
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Region surrounding the fuel core of a breeder reactor that contains fertile material to increase production of new fuel.

Brayton cycle

Method used to transfer fission heat energy to gas (e.g., helium or superheated carbon dioxide) for use in a gas turbine to generate electricity.


Reactor that produces new fuel from fertile material at a faster rate than it bums fuel for energy production.


Reactor that produces less new fuel from fertile material than it burns for energy production.


Liquid or gaseous medium used to remove fission heat from a reactor core.


Region within a reactor occupied by the nuclear fuel that supports the fission chain reaction.


Condition where a fission chain reaction is stable with neutron production balancing losses at a nonzero power level.

Electron volt (eV)

1 eV is the kinetic energy obtained by an electron moving across 1 V of electric potential 1 eV = 1.602 × 10−19 J. Common multiples are 1 keV = 1,000 eV and 1 MeV = 106 eV. Neutron energies from less than an eV through about 10 MeV are important in nuclear fission power plants.

Fast neutrons

Neutrons of high energy, particularly those produced directly by the fission reaction (∼0.1–10 MeV).


Material, not itself fissile, capable of being converted to fissile material following absorption of a neutron.


Material capable of sustaining a fission chain reaction.


Nuclei capable of fission by neutrons and of participation in a fission chain reaction (category includes fissile nuclides).


Process in which a heavy-metal nucleus splits into two or more large fragments, releases energy, and emits neutrons and gamma radiation.


Different nuclides of the same chemical element, e.g., 235U and 238U are two of the isotopes of uranium.


Material of low atomic mass included in a reactor for the purpose of reducing the kinetic energy of neutrons.

Multiplication factor

Ratio of neutron production rate to neutron loss rate value is unity for a critical system.


Atomic nucleus with a specified number of neutrons and protons, e.g., the uranium-235 [\( {}_{{92}}^{{235}}{\text{U}} \)] nuclide has atomic mass number 235, 92 protons (atomic number), and 235–92 = 143 neutrons.


Fractional change in neutron multiplication referenced to the critical condition value is zero for a critical system.


Combination of fissile and other materials in a geometric arrangement designed to support a neutron chain reaction.

Steam cycle

Method used to convert fission heat energy to steam that drives a turbo-generator, thus, generating electricity.

Thermal neutrons

Low-energy neutrons at or near thermal equilibrium with their surroundings produced by slowing down or moderating the fast neutrons produced by fission. (Equilibrium thermal energy, e.g., is 0.25-eV at 20°C).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sandia National LaboratoriesAlbuquerqueUSA

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