How a Nuclear Power Plant works

A terrifying reality unfolds brought on by the damage caused to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  With this disaster ultimately comes questions pertaining to what nuclear power is, how it is managed and what a nuclear power plant actually does.

Nuclear power is produced by controlled (non-explosive) nuclear reactions.  Commercial and utility plants currently use nuclear fission reactions to heat water and produce steam which is then pushed through a turbine to generate electricity.  Nuclear power produces 6% of the world’s electricity with France and Japan producing about 50% of that total.  There are also numerous nuclear powered naval vessels in the world, at least 150 currently declassified.

How a Nuclear Power Plant Works:

1.  Rods of radioactive materials are placed in water which causes a reaction generating mass amounts of steam.

2.  The steam is then channeled through a turbine which generates electricity.

3.  Most times the steam is trapped by a condenser which breaks the steam back down into water and recycled into the fission chamber.

4.  During this whole process, an external cool water supply is used to cool the fission reactor to keep things from overheating and exploding.

Take in mind that this is a very brief and lament description of nuclear power.  You may click the image at the top of this page to enlarge to view specific locations in a nuclear power plant not mentioned above.

There are actually two different types of nuclear reactors described as follows:

Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR) keep water under pressure, so the water heats but does not boil. The heated pressurized water is run through pipes, which heat a separate water line to create steam. The water to generate steam is never mixed with the pressurized water used to heat it.

Boiling Water Reactors (BWR) heat water by generating heat from fission in the reactor vessel to boil water and create steam, which turns the generator.

In both types of plants, the steam is turned back into water and can be used again in the process.




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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.