Have you ever seen a racing car flying around a track? Maybe your family enjoys watching Formula 1 on a Sunday? If you’ve heard the noise and seen the speed of a racing car, you’ll know just how powerful they are.
If you’ve attended a Richie science workshop, you’ll remember that we used a salad spinner to show you how a centrifuge works. There was lettuce and water in the centrifuge, and as it spun, they separated, leaving just lettuce in the middle and just water in the outside.
If Richie hasn’t visited your school yet, then here is a small description of what happens: to create nuclear power, you need uranium. But not every part of the uranium atom. Uranium is made of two isotopes – like two fillings in a sandwich or two ingredients in a cake! These two isotopes are called U235 and U238.
To make nuclear energy, you need lots of U235. But here’s a problem: only a teeny, weeny bit of uranium is U235 – about 0.7%. The rest of the uranium is U238, which we don’t need.
So how do you get more U235? The answer is, you enrich the uranium. In simple terms, this means creating a gas from the uranium, and spinning the gas really fast in a machine called a centrifuge. U235 is lighter than U238, so it sticks to the middle of the centrifuge – a bit like when you get stuck to your seat when going around a loop on a rollercoaster – and the U238 is pushed to the outside. The U235 can then be sucked out of the middle, and used to make nuclear energy.
URENCO has invented really special centrifuges, which spin so fast it would make you dizzy! So where does the racing car come in?
If a racing car’s engine spun as fast as a URENCO centrifuge, the car would travel non-stop at top speed for 15 years without a pit-stop.
I bet a Formula One driver would be impressed by that!