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Busan Day 3: Visiting Kori Nuclear Power Plant The World's Biggest Functional Nuclear Plant (kinda)

Good news: We found the nuclear plant.

Bad news: We couldn't get inside it. Instead, we went to a visitor exhibition.



We woke up today without alarms. I just want to say, don't ever buy bottled cold brew coffee. It's a combination of sour coffee with a blend of chicken essence drink. The sandwich was great, though, a combination of potato and coleslaw with strawberry jam.


We got lost at the Bujeon interchange but the train staff managed to help us find the right train to Wollae. Let's just say that it wasn't a common tourist destination.



We found the nuclear power plant easily because it's the biggest thing by the seaside. Even on the train, we could see it. However, getting inside was a different issue. This was the actual nuclear plant, and we couldn't get inside without an official guide. Blame our lack of Korean, I almost walked in as a tresspasser. Your girl was almost ready to become a criminal in order to satisfy her curiosity.


My brother remained the ever-so-rational person, and Google translated his way into making all the staff at the entrance confused as to why two foreigners were here at a nuclear plant for a tour. I let him handle the situation because I refused to be blamed for helping him speak to foreigners. His ungrateful ass can handle this. Eventually, we were told that the visitor centre was in a different building.



Taking the scenic route because we completely didn't use a map, I found these. You can see for yourselves just how small the reactor plant is compared to my imagination, even if it were Korea's biggest nuclear plant with the highest technology. I'll explain those in a manner that non-physicists like myself could understand.



After crawling into all sorts of wrong exits, camera offices and staff only doors, we found the 'official' entrance. I thought we were at the wrong place because this looked like something kids would do at a science exhibition centre. However, there was a barricaded escalator leading downstairs to where I wanted to be, so we climbed a nameless flight of stairs. Being fed-up with someone's planning, I decided to fuck the rules all day. If anything goes wrong, I'll just play my lost tourist card. It's alright.



Fortunately, it was the right place, and nobody kicked us out. We were probably the only ones there. It's a weekday, and most kids should be in school. This wasn't a place for tourists either, so everything was in Korean. I left my brother to Google translate everything on the wall and explain it in common sense to me later while I went around taking pictures and pushing every interactive red button I could find.



Long nerdy rant incoming. I'm basing this on the photo references and my memory. You'd better check your facts instead of trusting my understanding of nuclear plants and the process because things can get quite nerdy and wonky. You've been warned!


Nerdy nuclear rants beginning!


For the sake of easy following, I will break this into bite-sized sections sumarrised from lengthy nerdy debates with my brother.


The Necessity of Nuclear


To power a turbine for electricity generation, there are several methods to generate knietic movement. The more common method was using steam. Boiling water takes a lot of energy and burning coal was a popular movement used in the Industrial Revolution. Alternative sources for heat generation are natural gases (LPG) and oil. However, these resources are depleting faster than we can replace them due to the increasing demand for electricity. The supply of electricity from renewable sources such as solar, hydro and wind are presently limited and not as efficient financially. Many of those farms take up a lot of landspace as well.


Here, uranium comes into play. With the most space-savvy, energy efficient and low-carbon-emitting option, it has become the most popular non-renewable resource that we could rely on without fearing of it depleting in the next hundred years. Its efficiency speaks for itself despite common fear of radiation side-effects.


Manufacturing Uranium


This was a mystery for the longest time. I used to think uranium that was mined was like picking it up in Minecraft that causes you substantial damage over time when it was in your inventory. However, reality was very different. In fact, I probably have more radiation on me than the scientists working with it because of all the x-ray scans I had to do in this life from breaking too many bones.


Raw uranium in its mined form as an ore is highly impure and isn't very effective until it has been processed with Fluorine to create a compound known as yellow cake where it is treated further to become tiny uranium pellets capable of 5% radioactivity. Each pellet is about 1cm long and about 20 grams.


Two things to note here. 1) The pellet is not radioactive until it has been in contact with water. You could technically hold it with bare hands for a while and not get any side effects as far as scienctists have claimed. However, the safety protocol for handling them is to wear waterproof gloves because we have sweat glands on our palms. 2) Each uranium pellet that is processed is about 5% radioactive but this radioactivity will diminish in about three to five years to about 1% when it would be disposed after.


How much power does Kori Nuclear Plant Produce?


A pellet is able to create about 1,600 kW worth of power until it is put to rest. To put this in mathematical perspective, you would only need 150 kW of electricity to use your PC for a year. According to the information centre, 1,600 kW is enough to power an entire regular Korean household for 8 months. That's for one pellet.


Kori Nuclear Plant has more than one pellet of course. They have several rods of uranium with many pellets stacked inside each rod, all in a fuel assembly. Seeing how it is the world's biggest functional nuclear plant, it can produce enough elecricity to power an entire city with reserves. I forgot the exact numbers that my brother broke down in calculations from me based on the information listed on the information board. I also forgot to take a picture of that because I was too busy counting and losing brain cells from seeing numbers. There is a reason why I refused to go back to working in the finance sector.


P.S. One rod has 385 pellets. One fuel assembly has 236 rods. For those who are good at Math, do the calculations for how much electricity the Kori Nuclear Plant can produce using the above given information for one pellet. Assume that the lifespan for a pellet is 5 years. Comment your answer in kW how much electricity a fuel seembly can produce in a month. I will insert the answer at the bottom of the blog below so you could check.


Nuclear Process


Here, it's simpler than you might think it is. Think of the nuclear plant as a factory with three main buildings. The first building is where the uranium is, soaked in a permanent pressurised water tank that is constantly regulated for temperature. The second building is where all your nuclear engineers sit in a control room to watch screens that tell them everything they need to adjust to keep operations within safety margins. Maintenence staff work very closely with these experts. The last room is the turbine room where your actual electricity is getting produced from steam generated in the first building that is piped over to the third building.


Not very complicated right? However, the boiler chamber is where things become very complicated. Uranium that is processed as pellets in these rods are constantly submerged in the water of this tank. They are never taken out and extremely angry. They emit heat enough to melt through many materials and if you remember the short of me claiming I burned water when I actually burned the non-stick coating while boiling water, the same could happen here. Hence, to avoid overheating the plant, the water tank has advanced features of temperature control to avoid nuclear fission from melting everything else and posing a major disaster like Fukushima's incident. Steel rods are great conductors to 'absorb' the angry energy that are excessive from these constantly submerged uranium rods.



Although the reason why uranium rods cannot be removed isn't mentioned, my brother and I guessed that the heat produced by the highly reactive uranium when exposed to air would explode. It is highly reactive in water and with a less contained state, similar to lithium when exposed to air, the results would be catastrophic. Hence, the only way to regulate the heat is to reduce the number of reactive of ions within the water by inserting stainless steel rods as a medium to hav more unstable ions attach to it, reducing the overall temperature.


Apologies if that gets a little too advanced. I tried to keep it simple but think of it as an energy transfer so that people don't die.


Containment Structure


Six materials of insulation that reduces all the radiation to only 0.01 on the scale (I don't know the measurement unit), I'd say that the nuclear plant is relatively safe. Of all the materials they used, you need to know they have rebar steel and cement that fills a wall of more than 1 metre in thickness. If you want more details, I found a PDF document with the infrastructure explanation designs online that you can read. It's about 40 pages long with diagrams for easier understanding if you're aspiring to become a nuclear plant manager.


Most importantly, Kori Power Plant is built to withstand earthquakes and tsunamis. I'm not sure what kind of disasters they can withstand but 10 meter tall tsunami and earthquakes of 7 magnitude should not pose an issue.


Radioactive Waste Disposal


Apart from getting the uranium to work, those that need to be rested at 1% radioactivity after 5 years of service will be treated accordingly. We saw a cross section of radioactive disposal barrels. Remember how I mentioned the pellets were smaller than my pinky? Yes. They will not be filling the barrel that looks like an oil barrel with all the pellets. If anything, it would be filled with dirt and concrete mostly to prevent the 1% of radioactivity from causing any environmental harm. It would be buried like my ancestors underground. As for what would happen in a uranium pellet's afterlife, I don't have the answer.


Takeaway


The world really shouldn't be fighting over technology and resource monopolisation with how little time we have left before we run out of other natural resources and become plunged into a dark age. Mankind needs less greed and selfishness in the religion of capitalism. However, there's not much one ordinary person like me could do about the global situation involving all sorts of powerful people.


Nuclear power is something that could resolve a lot of immediate problems such as pollution with its efficiency. It's not evil with this level of meticulous management. A city full of electric cars instead of petrol vehicles with the power of nuclear is feasible. The Earth can recover if we stopped fighting each other to line our own pockets at its expense.


Really. We teach children what kindness is and how to be kind. Is it too much to ask for educated and successful people who are meant to set a good role model for our future generations to practise a little kindness?


Nerdy nuclear rants end!



After not being able to see the actual plant, we headed back and found a fast food restaurant called Mom's Touch with premium tasting burgers and fried chicken. The sauces were amazing, even though it killed my brother's tongue and stomach from too much spice. The fried rice cakes mised with fried chicken was a very Korean rendition to the sides I was used to. The fries went amazing well with their thick cheese sauce too that I ended up stealing a sizeable portion of that, making me unable to eat dinner. The meal cost about 20,000 krw. It's wayyy better than Mcdonalds.


On the way back, I dropped by the Bujeon wet market again to grab another tray of strawberries. This time, I'm not sharing. After that, we returned to the hotel for a while before heading out to do the laundry together while grabbing bites from the convinience store for dinner and tomorrow's breakfast. The hotel doesn't have a microwave so we were searching for bread. Surprisingly, unlike Japan, Korea convinience stores do not sell bread commonly. Everything is either noodles or rice. Another thing I randomly noted was the elderly population in Busan. It's truly concerning what the country would look like wih a severe population decline.


Anyway, I will go shooting tomorrow and enjoy my last day in Busan at Spa Land. We will be flying back on a late flight on Friday. I don't know how my body will adjust from this freezing winter to a tropical climate. It would take some getting adjusted to, so I won't be resuming streaming or work immediately.


Answer to the pop quiz:


Number of pellets in a fuel assembly

385 pellets x 236 rods = 90,860 pellets

1,600 kw / 5 years = 320 kw

320 kw / 12 months = 26.6 kw (one pellet worth of electricity per month)

26.6 kw x 90,860 pellets in a fuel assembly = 2,422,933.34 kw (electricity produced by a fuel assembly in one month)


To find out how much Kori produces, you can visit this website.

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