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OWOE - Nuclear Power - How do nuclear power plants generate electricity?
  Figure 1 - Pressurized Water Reactor Animation (NRC)
Figure 1 - Pressurized Water Reactor Animation (NRC)
Figure 2 - Boiling Water Reactor Animation (NRC)
Video 1 - How nuclear energy works
Video 2 - Nuclear Energy Explained: Risk or Opportunity
How do nuclear power plants generate electricity?
Topic updated: 2016-03-11

Nuclear plants generate electricity by using the nuclear fission process to generate heat. As in all conventional thermal electric power plants, the heat is used to generate steam which then rotates the blades on a steam turbine that is connected to an electric generator which produces electricity. An array of rods containing nuclear material (control rods) is submerged in a water bath which absorbs the radioactive particles and controls the fission process. The water level in the bath is slowly reduced so that less particles are absorbed, and a fission reaction is initiated. Alternatively, the water level is increased to slow down or stop the fission reaction.

There are a number of different nuclear reactor designs. The two most common in the US are the Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) and Boiling Water Reactor (BWR). PWRs keep water under pressure so that it heats, but does not boil. (see Figure 1) BWRs actually boil the water.(See Figure 2) In both types, water is converted to steam, and then recycled back into water in the condenser, to be used again in the heat process. Water involved in the steam generation process and water involved in the cooling process are in separate piping systems and do not mix; thus, most radiation is maintained within the containment structure.

Videos 1 and 2 show how nuclear plants work to generate electricity.

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