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WIREs Energy Environ.
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Environmental characteristics of the current Generation III nuclear power plants

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The environmental impact of electricity generation sources can be generically characterized by their use of natural resources, the thermal pollution they cause, and their emissions of chemical pollutants and radionuclides. Nuclear power plants generate concern regarding their radioactive emissions, which are often poorly understood. A presentation is made of the known data on the environmental impact of pre‐Gen III nuclear power plants during normal operation and as a consequence of severe accidents. The radiation doses received by the public and exposed workers as a consequence of nuclear power are compared with the ones because of natural radioactivity and medical applications. The characteristics of the new Gen III reactors which will bring significant improvements to the environmental impact of nuclear power generation are discussed in detail.

This article is categorized under:

  • Fossil Fuels > Climate and Environment
Passive safety features of the economic simplified boiling water reactor (ESBWR). (Reproduced with permission from Ref . Copyright 2009, Elsevier.)
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Typical barriers confining radioactive materials in nuclear power plants. (Reproduced with permission from OECD/Nuclear Energy Agency (2003), Nuclear Energy Today, Nuclear Development, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264103306‐en.)
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Model of plume transport from Japan to U.S. territories as a result of the Fukushima accident. Colored particles represent airborne radioactivity, with different colors indicating different days of potential releases from Japan. Graphic provided courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Atmospheric Release Advisory Center (NARAC) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Inclusion of this graphic does not imply endorsement of the conclusions of this paper by NARAC/LLNL.
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Average worldwide radiation exposure from natural radiation, medical applications, and anthropogenic radionuclides.
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Radioactivity evaluations in various areas throughout the world. (Reproduced with permission from Ref . Copyright 2008, Elsevier.)
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Evolution of the total number of power reactors connected to the electrical grid and of the total number of operating power reactors until the end of 2011.
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Core damage frequency (CDF) of Gen III nuclear power plants. The NRC limit for the CDF of current plants, the typical CDF value of pre‐Gen III plants, and the INSAG limit for the CDF of new reactor designs are also shown for comparison.
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Main components of the European pressurized reactor (EPR) core catcher. (Reproduced with permission from Ref . Copyright 2004, Elsevier.)
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Three‐dimensional view of the pressure vessel of the European pressurized reactor (EPR), its corium spreading area, and the nearby in‐containment refuelling water storage tank (IRWST). (Reproduced with permission of Teollisuuden Voima Oyj.)
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