On the 19th of November 2012 the Nuclear Energy MPhil students went to Sizewell B, an EDF operated nuclear power plant. The aim was to gain an understanding of what a reactor really looks like in comparison with the nuclear engineering lectures.
Sizewell B reactor is a pressurized water reactor that uses enriched uranium as fuel. It is situated on the east coast of England and faces the North Sea; it is a remote area surrounded by farms and agricultural fields. The dome of the reactor can be spotted from afar but it is only when one arrives at the main site gates that the size of the construction can be appreciated.
Security and safety is paramount at any Nuclear Power Plant, so each visitor had to be registered and escorted by safety personnel at all time. Everyone has to go through a metal detector and then security revolving doors that require pre-assigned visitor badges. When everyone was inside the main office building, we were taken to a conference room for a security briefing and an introduction to the plant.
The head of safety for the plant explained to the students how the power station is built to be safe and has inherent and design safety features that make it extremely unlikely for accidents to happen. He demonstrated the sophisticated software that models the entire power plant and showed various types of accident scenarios along with the automatic safety systems available.
At the end of the presentation, safety clothing was given to us and the safety staff took the group around the power station for a tour. The first stop was the turbine building where the steam energy is converted into electricity. When entering the building the feeling is similar to the eye opening experience when you enter a football stadium for the first time. The gigantic scale of the steel piping, the precision of the construction and the power generated can be felt - providing a tangible sense of pride in the technological achievement of such energy generators.
For security reasons the rest of the plant was explained to us from the outside of the actual buildings but we were shown where the control room was located , where the spent fuel is kept, the reactor core building and also the location of the emergency diesel generators.
The trip to Sizewell B power plant was very interesting because it allowed us to understand the size of the reactor and it gave all the students a sense of how nuclear reactors are if run by responsible and well trained engineers and staff.
Matteo Frontini, MPhil Student