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Reactor types

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The people in a nuclear power plant


Nuclear power plants typically employ just under a thousand people per reactor (including security guards and engineers associated with the plant but possibly working elsewhere).[citation needed]



· Nuclear engineers

· Reactor operators

· Health physicists

· Nuclear Regulatory Commission Resident Inspectors




Nuclear Reactors are classified by several methods; a brief outline of these classification schemes is provided.


Classification by type of nuclear reaction



- Nuclear fission. Most reactors, and all commercial ones, are based on nuclear fission. They generally use uranium and its product plutonium as nuclear fuel, though a thorium fuel cycle is also possible. This article takes "nuclear reactor" to mean fission reactor unless otherwise stated. Fission reactors can be divided roughly into two classes, depending on the energy of the neutrons that sustain the fission chain reaction:


· Thermal reactors use slowed or thermal neutrons. Almost all current reactors are of this type. These contain neutron moderator materials that slow neutrons until their neutron temperature is thermalised, that is, until their kinetic energy approaches the average kinetic energy of the surrounding particles. Thermal neutrons have a far higher cross section (probability) of fissioning the fissile nuclei uranium-235, plutonium-239, and plutonium-241, and a relatively lower probability of neutron capture by uranium-238 compared to the faster neutrons that originally result from fission, allowing use of low-enriched uranium or even natural uranium fuel. The moderator is often also the coolant, usually water under high pressure to increase the boiling point. These are surrounded by reactor vessel, instrumentation to monitor and control the reactor, radiation shielding, and a containment building.


· Fast neutron reactors use fast neutrons to cause fission in their fuel. They do not have a neutron moderator, and use less-moderating coolants. Maintaining a chain reaction requires the fuel to be more highly enriched in fissile material (about 20% or more) due to the relatively lower probability of fission versus capture by U-238. Fast reactors have the potential to produce less transuranic waste because all actinides are fissionable with fast neutrons,[7] but they are more difficult to build and more expensive to operate. Overall, fast reactors are less common than thermal reactors in most applications. Some early power stations were fast reactors, as are some Russian naval propulsion units. Construction of prototypes is continuing (see fast breeder or generation IV reactors).



- Nuclear fusion. Fusion power is an experimental technology, generally with hydrogen as fuel. While not currently suitable for power production, Farnsworth-Hirsch fusors are used to produce neutron radiation.


- Radioactive decay. Examples include radioisotope thermoelectric generators as well as other types of atomic batteries, which generate heat and power by exploiting passive radioactive decay.



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