Atoms for power; From ore to atom
Transcribed. Thanks thanks. Thanks. Photos by Purdue University program from the Educational Television Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Today's program written and produced by Bob McMahon. There's the title from ORD to Adam. The book. I was. Alright.
You can generate enough electricity to light a 75 watt bulb for one minute by stroking a cat's back nine billion two hundred million times. This is of course a far fetched example of how electric power can be generated yet electricity is a common byproduct of many of our actions such as getting into or out of a car or walking across a deep pile rugs especially when wearing rubber soled shoes. It is only when we need it and large amounts and for some useful purpose that man alone is unable to supply it without the help of nature. In the distant past man learned very slowly to use the sources of energy that nature provided. His first source of energy was himself. But as the centuries passed he began to use animals and machines to do is work. Finally he learned to make use of the fossil fuels coal oil and gas but only by a very gradual process. Less than 200 years ago but a small amount of these fuels had been taken from the ground. Since that time man has used these fuels
for so many purposes that the supply is rapidly diminishing what nature took two hundred thousand years to make man has consumed in the short space of two centuries. Even in the more favored nations at the present rate of consumption oil and natural gas will last only for several more decades. World population as well as our own country's population is on the increase and our dependence upon power grows with it since our conventional fuels are in diminishing supply. It is in this context that we turn to atomic energy to fill our needs. It's. A long black line of coal cars are starting on a journey into the cold morning giving no hint of its burden. We may assume if we mice not going to our beds that they are carrion cold. And should would climb the short
steel ladders expand their sides. We still might not recognize the fine grayish black powder that lives there right at the spawn of a new industry. Atomic power and the making of the greatest like power that we would see is you're right on the first leg of its journey a journey that will take it one day into your living room and the form of light. Let's travel with it on its journey and see what happens in the meantime. Last week on atoms for power we discussed the world reserves of uranium and thorium. The basic fuels of atomic industry will learn that our present supplies of more conventional fuels were dwindling and we wanted to find out if this would happen to our atomic fuel you or any m scientists from all over the world told us the story of the earth's supplies of uranium and we learned that even the most conservative estimates pointed toward uranium reserves that would last at least seventeen hundred years
until man could produce by fusion reaction in the light elements and inexhaustible power source for the world. Perhaps before that happens man will have found a way to utilize the energy of the sun itself or his power needs at the present time however the answer seems to lie in the atomic fuel your radium. We heard how the uranium search is conducted and followed the or on the first part of its journey to an atomic reactor. We will now follow the course of the roll or as it travels more than halfway across the nation as it is made ready for atomic harnesses. This sound is being made by a giant or crushing machine located at Durango Colorado. Only a few miles from the Iranian mines each ton of ore as it is brought up out of the ground contains many other materials besides your Iranian. And this first step in the process of separation and purification is to break it up into little pieces. The method used to remove uranium from the ore itself are not unique to the industry.
They're the same ones used to separate copper gold or silver from the ores in which they occur. In this case the operation is not an easy one. Since the uranium lies scattered throughout they are in particles no bigger than the point of a pin from the crushing machine. The ore travels to a grinder where it is grounded to still smaller particles about the size of a grain of sand. The next step takes these particles to a processing plant to be roasted with salt at temperatures up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit percolated with water dissolved in acid heated and re heated dissolved and re dissolved dried and re dried. Ultimately the Iranian emerges in the form of a fine grayish black powder that is a compound of uranium and oxygen. It is called black oxide. The yellow of the original kind of tied or is gone forever from each ton of beginning or only two pounds now remain. Yet even these
two pounds per ton contain too many impurities to be of any use as atomic fuel and so the black oxide is sent to its next destination on the production chain. The black oxide has by now travelled all the way from the right angle Colorado for the Atomic Energy Commission's materials and processing center at Fern Oldham and southwestern Ohio where it will again re-enter the world of burning acid and its metamorphosis to atomic fuel. It changes color many times from black to orange orange to brown all the while shedding more and more of its impurities. And then once again it is that on its way to the next to last stop and its journey. There is a long gray U-shaped building at Oak Ridge Tennessee that plays a key
role in atomic energy production. It is here that your rainy I'm 235 the radioactive form of uranium needed for many atomic energy operations is separated from the other forms of uranium with which it is mixed by nature. Each leg of this unusual plant which ridge people called K. twenty five stretches for about half a mile and is more than 400 feet wide. It is operated by the Union Carbide and carbon corporation for the Atomic Energy Commission. This plant from the standpoint of both its structure and equipment has been described as a monument to the engine already and vision of America's top scientists and development engineers. No similar plant has ever been built or even conceived before. Here is hollows under one roof. The world's largest single industrial process. The plant contains hundreds of miles of piping millions of feet of tubing thousands of vacuum type containers and countless instruments valves and other control devices.
Pumps had to be developed that would operate faster than the speed of this exceedingly complex equipment as required to capture the key atomic material and elusive isotope of uranium known as you 235. This particular form of uranium is comparatively rare houris found in nature uranium has only one U-235 atom for every one hundred forty atoms of another uranium isotope known as you two thirty eight. The two atoms uranium 235 and 238 are almost identical except there are slight difference in weight. The problem is to separate them from each other and this is done at Oak Ridge by a process called gaseous diffusion. U-235 separations starts with a brilliant orange colored powder. The highly refined form of the uranium ore extracted from the ground to make this powder into a gaseous feed for the process. It is combined with a highly corrosive
element chlorine and becomes a gas uranium hexafluoride. This means that there is one atom of uranium in company with six of Flory. This gas with millions of atoms bouncing around in it is pumped. Through miles of piping separated at intervals by porous membranes called barriers and these barriers there are billions of homes each less than two millions of an inch in diameter. All of the uranium Adams can go through the tiny holes in the barriers with room to spare. So they cannot be separated by screening or filtering. But it was realized that the U-235 atoms would tend to go through first because they weigh less and move just a little faster. Only a few of the lighter atoms get through the holes ahead of the others and this slightly enriched gas is immediately pumped on to the next stage for further processing. The rest is sent back to start all over again. The corrosive uranium gas actually research relates many
thousands of times through the system before it becomes rich enough and U-235 happens. It is then converted into a usable form either metal or liquid crystal an or solid compound for atomic energy operation. Today at Oakridge for other massive plant your nodes are stretched out in the valley alongside the original gaseous diffusion plant. The total plant area covered by the gaseous diffusion operation is about 600 acres. In addition to the five separate units there are about 70 other buildings. And electricity consumption alone these plants consume about 16 billion kilowatt hours per year. This is nearly one and a half times as much electricity as is used by the rest of the state of Tennessee and nearly three times as much as that required by the city of Detroit. If you will remember the amount of pure uranium obtained from our original ton of ore was a mere two pounds. But now the amount of fish oil or fissionable uranium
235 that has emerged from our original ton is but a fraction of an ounce. That small fraction of an ounce of fuel however contains more potential power for industry than do many thousands of tons of coal. What does it look like this precious quantity of pure uranium 235. It looks like normal natural uranium in all its pristine beauty a bright very heavy hard material not unlike leaden weight and not unlike nickel and color. It is like normal natural uranium except for two very interesting differences. It is slightly lighter and it will if brought together into a critical mass release some of its energy and the form of heat from Oakridge Iranian 235 is ready to continue its travels to the firebox of a nuclear reactor. But now instead of a railroad car all that is needed to carry it is a package the size of a briefcase. Most reactors don't need pure uranium 235 as a fuel to operate
a thermal reactor. And the kind of reactor that is most often used to produce power to generate electricity. Operates either with natural uranium which contains about one part of uranium 235 atoms to 140 parts of the Iranian atom due to thirty eight and its make up. Or enriched uranium which has been salted with additional amounts of uranium 235 atoms. But it is only the U-235 atoms which can be made to fission and they alone produce enough heat to make the steam which turns the generators and produces electric power. How do we explain the process of fission. What happens to our uranium fuel once it is placed in the reactor. Here is Mr. Oliver Townsend assistant the executive manager of the atomic industrial Forum an organization whose purpose it is to better inform the public on atomic developments to tell us one way to approach it is to consider uranium as a fuel. As one might as a substitute for coal as a fuel
now there's a big difference between what might be called a uranium fire and a coal fire in a coal fire. One needs to have oxygen. One needs great quantities of fuel in order to produce a relatively small amount of heat and therefore power whereas in the case of uranium these facts are exactly reversed. One one pound of uranium for example has as much energy and it has two million seven hundred thousand pounds of coal. And there's another interesting difference in the way you start a uranium fire is to assemble a sufficient amount of fuel and there's nothing that you need to do to ignite it it's simply what might be said burst into nuclear flame. Your problem then is to control the reaction. This is done by means of control rods which absorb
small subatomic particle known as neutrons which are produced by the reaction and also feed the reaction one might think of these neutrons as being to a nuclear fire as oxygen is to a coal fire. So if you can control the amount of neutrons that are present in the environment of the fire you can control the fire and you can put it to work for you. When the uranium reacts in this is called a nuclear chain reaction it produces great quantities of radiation that also produces radioactive ashes or waste products. But the. It also produces heat and this is the thing that makes it most interesting to those people who would like to produce power in great quantities from atomic energy. Now the heat is produced in the container which contains the uranium and the problem is to get it out. Generally this is done by circulating through the reactor core either air or
rotor or gas or liquid metal in the kinds of power plants which are being built today which are being thought about most seriously today. In most cases the material which carries the heat away from the reactor to a place where it can be put to work is water. And this is this is done through. A stainless steel pipes or some other kind of pipes with suitable materials in them. And this is carried off to a piece of equipment which is called a heat exchanger and there the heat is transferred to generally again to another cycle of water and this second cycle of water becomes steam and the steam can be used just in the same way that steam is used when it's produced from a coal fire it is it turns the turbaned and makes the electricity which is put on the high wire and send out the cities to light them and in all other ways that powers you. We ask Mr. Townsend to tell us something about the size of a nuclear reactor. He
says the quantities of fuel needed were very small indeed in comparison to a coal fire. Just how large is the reactor itself. Reactors can vary enormously in size according to their type. One way of thinking about it though is the to fix in your mind a mental image of the difference is to think that if one had an atomic reactor that was about the size of. Of the coal burning furnace which he has our oil burning furnace which he has in the basement of his house. If one had an atomic reactor about that size one could light a city with it of about half a million people. Well how often and as new fuel have to be put into the reactor and the old fuel or atomic ash need to be removed. This again varies a good deal from reactor to reactor it depends on its design and it depends on what you want to use it for besides just producing heat. But one might think of it in terms of needing refueling only end after
months or even years rather than after minutes or hours as days as in the case of other kinds of fuel. Then it has another advantage for remote parts of the world too and that it comes inside small. And one might say convenient packages you could carry enough in the briefcase to a remote part of the world which would last maybe a year or two to light a city or mining operation or something in in a remote part of the world. As we've already mentioned the fuel elements have to be removed from the reactor periodically and new fuel installed but the old fuel even though it may no longer act as an efficient medium for an atomic reaction is by no means a completely useless byproduct of the atomic furnace. Not only can we extract from one ton of uranium the heat equivalent of about 10000 tons of coal in a single fuel cycle. But we can also recycle the fuel and thermal reactors several times so that the energy extraction can be increased five or ten fold.
Here to tell us something of this process is our scientific advisor Dr. Donald J. Tandem atomic physicist and scientist at Purdue University. As the reactors operated the fissionable fuel is gradually used up this fuel the PlayStation known as burn up amounts to about 1 gram of uranium 235 for each 24000 kilowatt hours of operation. In the present state of technology it is impossible to burn up all of fissionable material in Reactors a few elements before they must be replaced. There are several reasons for this in the first place as the reactor operates a number of by products are produced. These fission products the ashes of the nuclear furnace consist of a number of different chemical elements. All these elements are able to capture neutrons so they compete with the fission process in due course the proportion of neutrons lost in this manner becomes so large
that reactor operation can no longer be maintained. In other words the fission products literally poison the reactor. Also these same fission products because they are highly radioactive and emit energetic radiations cause physical deterioration and dimensional changes in the fuel element that may bring about mechanical failure of the element. Consequently from time to time the reactor fuel must be removed and processed so as to separate the accumulated fission products. What effect is this necessary operation have on the cost of production of nuclear power because of the fuel in a nuclear reactor must be replaced before all of fissionable material in it is consumed. Economical operation first of all demands that the young consume fissionable material be recovered. Of course it's possible that one day this may not be so an issue fuel costs could become so low in the future
that throwing away spent few elements will be cheaper than reprocessing. But this is definitely not the case at present. One of the techniques in use at the present time to remove fission products from the reactor fuel prior to its return to the reactor how much fuel can we actually save by this process. In one of its recent reports the Atomic Energy Commission states the process is required to recover more than 95 percent of the young consumed uranium and to reduce the fission product radioactivity to a level that will allow further processing of the uranium without shielding. As a consequence of these stringent requirements many reprocessing techniques are being investigated one broad category includes such well-known chemical processes as precipitation solvent extraction ion exchange and the electro chemistry. Another group
involves heating the metal few and processing it in the mountain formed by salt extraction or oxide slighting. These appear to be ordinary conventional chemical and metallurgical processes no different from those already being used in industry today. This is true but there is one all important complication. All of the conventional chemical and chemical engineering practices are involved in the design of fissionable few reprocessing plants. These plants must differ from standard industrial practice because the materials are highly radioactive. Thus all operations must be remotely controlled. Adequate shielding must be installed and the elaborate precautions must be taken to prevent leaks or other accidents above all. The material must be handled in such a way as to prevent any inadvertent accumulation of a critical mass of fissionable material under
any conceivable condition of operation. Another special problem is waste disposal. Well this is a serious consideration in any chemical plant in the reactor fuel processing plant. It is perhaps the major cost factor. The disposal of radioactive waste is difficult and expensive. The reduction of the cost of chemical reprocessing may ultimately be the key step in making nuclear power competitive with power from other sources. Here indeed is a fertile field for the creative efforts of chemical and metallurgical engineers both present and future. I'm atoms with power today. We followed our tonnes of uranium ore up out of the ground and on its long journey from ore to atom. We have discovered that
atomic fuel offers many great advantages over cold oil and gas which constitute our main fossil fuels. But it must undergo many changes before it can be burned in an atomic furnace. The roar must be refined many times before it is ready. And in this process it must travel many miles from those places where it is first mined. To the ore crushing machines of Durango Colorado where it becomes a yellow powder. To the searing chemical buzz words yellow color changes to that of black oxide across the nation by rail to southwestern Ohio where it again changes color many times from black to orange to Brown. To gate 25. The gaseous diffusion plant in Oak Ridge Tennessee where it is combined with a highly corrosive and deadly chlorine to become a gas. And finally. It's not a metamorphosis. It is ready to complete the atomic furnace.
Now all that is left of our ton of uranium is a few pounds of Kuria Renny each pound with the heat equivalent of two million seven hundred thousand pounds of coal because of its light weight and from endless power potential uranium may become one of the most economically promising fuels ever utilised by man. Among its many advantages is the fact that it can be cheaply transported from one place to another. Instead of long lines of cars filled with fossil fuels. A briefcase would carry to a remote part of the world enough uranium to last even a year enough to light a small town and have to run a mine. Or an aluminum plant at the very site where the aluminum or is brought up out of the ground. Last week we were told that throughout the world there are tremendous reserves of uranium and thorium enough to last for several centuries. Enough to make wheels turn and turbans spin for many generations. Once we have overcome such problems as
those of chemical processing and recycling of atomic fuel so that none of the fissionable atoms of uranium need be wasted so that all the good can be gotten out of it so that all can be burned in the reactor. Uranium will take its place among the invaluable power resources of an ever expanding world. This is its promise. This is its purpose. This is the end toward which we are striving in coming weeks. Atoms for power will bring you the voices of the scientists engineers statesmen and industrialists who are actively involved in the development of atomic power for our nation. We will go by tape recording to the places where this pioneering work is being done. Places such as chippings port Pennsylvania Oak Ridge Tennessee Chicago Illinois connected to New York such as Ana California Los Angeles Arco Idaho and Hanford Washington will also visit with atomic experts around the world. Well journey to reactor sites such as those that called her
hall in England Markkula friends and the Canadian Atomic Energy site at Chalk River Ontario. You will find out more about the way atomic power can be created what it will cost what problems and solutions it will bring about and what place it will occupy and the society of the future the society we are building today because the future will not wait until tomorrow as man. Next week at the same time power will point out the economic consequences of the. Consequences brought about in many forms. Not only in the cost of power to the consumer. But an economic results that may bring about better safer and more numerous jobs and the foreseeable future.
- Atoms for power
- From ore to atom
- Producing Organization
- Purdue University
- WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Oliver Townsend, Atomic Industrial Forum (also appears in 717); Dr. Donald Tendam, Purdue University
- Other Description
- This 15-part series discusses the feasibility of atomic power as an alternate energy source to replace depleted fossil fuels.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Advisor: Tandam, Donald J.
Guest: Tandam, Donald J.
Guest: Townshend, Oliver
Narrator: Richter, Walt
Producer: McMahon, Bob
Producing Organization: Purdue University
Producing Organization: WBAA (Radio station : West Lafayette, Ind.)
Writer: McMahon, Bob
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 57-59-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Atoms for power; From ore to atom,” 1957-02-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 6, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1j97b550.
- MLA: “Atoms for power; From ore to atom.” 1957-02-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 6, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1j97b550>.
- APA: Atoms for power; From ore to atom. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-1j97b550