Given the ongoing nuclear disaster known as Fukushima, and despite assurances that US reactors are safe, one might wonder if our current implementation of nuclear energy is the really anything more than a dangerous experiment in an over-complicated steam-powered generator:
The conversion to electrical energy takes place indirectly, as in conventional thermal power plants: The heat is produced by fission in a nuclear reactor (in a coal power plant it would correspond to the boiler) and given to a heat transfer fluid - usually water (for a standard type light water reactor). Directly or indirectly water vapor-steam is produced. The pressurized steam is then usually fed to a multi-stage steam turbine. Steam turbines in Western nuclear power plants are among the largest steam turbines ever. After the steam turbine has expanded and partially condensed the steam, the remaining vapor is condensed in a condenser. The condenser is a heat exchanger which is connected to secondary side such as a river or a cooling tower. The water then pumped back into the nuclear reactor and the cycle begins again. The water-steam cycle corresponds to the Rankine cycle.
One of the alternatives to using nuclear energy as simply a fancier form of steam generation is the possibility of converting the energy created by the reactor directly into electricity - using an aneutronic reactor:
Successful aneutronic fusion would greatly reduce problems associated with neutron radiation such as ionizing damage, neutron activation, and requirements for biological shielding, remote handling, and safety.
Some proponents also see a potential for dramatic cost reductions by converting energy directly to electricity.
The US Navy's sponsored research at EMC2 Fusion is making some headway on this, and appears pleased with the current results.
Do you have any new news of ongoing alternatives to our current energy situation? If so, comments are open below the fold.
Keep in mind: This is an Open Thread.
Hat-tip to Roger Fox of Daily Kos for the reminder and link to the article.