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The purpose of this Handbook is to provide an introduction to nuclear power reactors, the nuclear fuel cycle, and associated analysis tools, to a broad audience including engineers, engineering and science students, their teachers and mentors, science and technology journalists, and interested members of the general public. Nuclear engineering encompasses all the engineering disciplines which are applied in the design, licensing, construction, and operation of nuclear reactors, nuclear power plants, nuclear fuel cycle facilities, and finally the decontamination and decommissioning of these facilities at the end of their useful operating life.
The Handbook examines many of these aspects in its three sections. The nuclear industry in the United States (U.S.) grew out of the Manhattan Project, which was the large science and engineering effort during WWII that led to the development and use of the atomic bomb. Even today, the heritage continues to cast a shadow over the nuclear industry.
The goal of the Manhattan Project was the production of very highly enriched uranium and very pure plutonium-239 contaminated with a minimum of other plutonium isotopes. These were the materials used in the production of atomic weapons. Today, excess quantities of these materials are being diluted so that they can be used in nuclear-powered electric generating plants.
Many see the commercial nuclear power station as a hazard to human life and the environment. Part of this is related to the atomic-weapon heritage of the nuclear reactor, and part is related to the reactor accidents that occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1979, and Chernobyl nuclear power station near Kiev in the Ukraine in 1986. The accident at Chernobyl involved Unit-4, a reactor that was a light water cooled, graphite moderated reactor built without a containment vessel.
The accident produced 56 deaths that have been directly attributed to it, and the potential for increased cancer deaths from those exposed to the radioactive plume that emanated from the reactor site at the time of the accident. Since the accident, the remaining three reactors at the station have been shut down, the last one in 2000. The accident at Three Mile Island involved Unit-2, a pressurized water reactor (PWR) built to USNRC license requirements.
This accident resulted in the loss of the reactor but no deaths and only a minor release of radioactive material. The commercial nuclear industry began in the 1950s. In 1953, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the United Nations and gave his famous “Atoms for Peace” speech where he pledged the United States “to find the way by which the miraculous inventiveness of man shall not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”
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