Up Close to a Nuclear Reactor
The Sixth Form Physics group visited a nuclear reactor at Silwood Park, Ascot in January.
Yes, there is a nuclear reactor in Ascot and it has been merrily fissioning away since 1965! The reactor core contains Uranium-235 (like a conventional nuclear power station) and uses water as a coolant and moderator with cadmium alloy control rods.
The core itself is the size of an oil drum and is surrounded by a thick lead shield and several metres of concrete. The reactor has been used by PhD students to carry out experiments on making radioisotopes.
The reactor is now being decommissioned as it is too expensive to upgrade with modern electronic control systems. The Imperial College staff explained in detail how the reactor core has been dismantled for transport to Sellafield for re-processing. An interesting fact about these water cooled reactors is the blue glow emitted from the coolant/moderator. It is called Cerenkov radiation and occurs when electrons move faster than the speed of light in water (obviously not faster than the speed of light in air re: Einstein)
Clive Young, Science Teacher said;
“Our students asked many interesting questions and the Imperial College Staff were very impressed with their knowledge and understanding of this complex topic. They were very interested to hear that Nuclear power could provide 50% of the UK’s electricity at a cheaper cost than renewables.”