Nuclear Energy

Which element is used for fuel in most nuclear power plants?

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2012-04-11 15:06:39
2012-04-11 15:06:39

Most nuclear power plants use uranium-235 as their fuel, in a concentration of around 4% to 5% enrichment, in combination with uranium-238, at 96% to 95%.

A few nuclear power reactors can use plutonium or thorium as fuel.

Any element above lead and bismuth will radioactively decay but Uranium 235 (U235) is used almost exclusively for controlled nuclear fission. uranium 235 is refined and "enriched" from uranium 238 which is what about 99% of uranium found turns out to be.

In principle, any radioactive element could be used as fuel,

but almost all existing nuclear power plants get their energy from the fission of

Uranium, Plutonium, and Thorium.

Many other elements play supporting roles at nuclear power plants; see the related question "What elements are used at nuclear power plants?".

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Uranium, typically enriched to ~3% Uranium-235.


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The critical element at a nuclear power plant is the element used as fuel, which we discuss in a related question (see "Which element is used for fuel in most nuclear power plants?"). The fuel is usually uranium or (less often) plutonium and thorium. However, many other elements play supporting roles, such as: oxygen (O): A few nuclear power plants use pure metallic U as fuel, but in most nuclear power plants, the fuel is uranium in the form of uranium dioxide UO2, which can stay solid at a much higher temperature than metallic U. zirconium (Zr): most nuclear reactors hold the fuel in tubes of zirconium alloy, which has a low neutron cross section (it goes brittle less rapidly than stainless steel used in older nuclear power plants) and is corrosion-resistant. boron, and carbon Cadmium is used in reactors as control rods to slow the rate of chemical reaction. Hydrogen and oxygen are found in the heavy water that moderates the rate of nuclear reation. Lead is sometimes used in the radiation shields. In some models of reactor, liquid sodium is used as a heat exchanger.


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uranium and plutonium are the two most commonly used fuels in nuclear power plants. when i first looked it up using this site, it completely failed. after finding my answer on Wikipedia i came back here to enrich the site's knowledge and help others


Because there is a very large amount of energy in their fuel.


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