How nuclear power works

How a Nuclear Reactor Works A nuclear reactor is like an enormous, high-tech tea kettle. Nuclear plants split atoms to boil water into steam.

How nuclear power works

To others, it summons images of disaster: But what happens inside a nuclear power plant to bring such marvel and misery into being? Imagine following a volt of electricity back through the wall socket, all the way through miles of power lines to the nuclear reactor that generated it.

You'd encounter the generator that produces the spark and the turbine that turns it. Next, you'd find the jet of steam that turns the turbine and finally the radioactive uranium bundle that heats water into steam. Welcome to the nuclear reactor core.

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The water in the reactor also serves as a coolant for the radioactive material, preventing it from overheating and melting down. In MarchTV viewers around the world learned what happens when the cooling system suffers a catastrophic failure. Japanese citizens fled by the tens of thousands from the area surrounding the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear facility after the most powerful earthquake on record and the ensuing tsunami inflicted serious damage on the plant and several of its reactor units.

Among other events, water drained from the reactor core, which in turn made it impossible to control core temperatures.

How nuclear power works

This resulted in overheating and a partial nuclear meltdown [source: As of Aprilthere are about nuclear power reactors in operation in 50 countries, and they provide about 11 percent of the world's electricity, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Nuclear energy supplies 20 percent of U. But some countries depend on the atom more heavily. France, for example, gets 72 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants, and Sweden gets about 40 percent from them, according to a report from April [source: In this article, we'll look at just how a nuclear reactor functions inside a power plant, as well as the atomic reaction that releases all that crucial heat.In a nuclear power plant, energy is derived from splitting atomic nuclei.

The process is called fission, and it heats water to form steam. The steam powers a turbine, which in turn powers a generator that generates electricity.

How nuclear power works

In most power plants, you need to spin a turbine to generate electricity. Coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear energy use their fuel to turn water into steam and use that steam to turn the turbine. Nuclear plants are different because they do not burn anything to create steam.

In a nuclear power plant, energy is derived from splitting atomic nuclei. The process is called fission, and it heats water to form steam.

How Nuclear Power Works | HowStuffWorks

The steam powers a turbine, which in turn powers a generator that generates electricity. A nuclear power plant is basically a steam power plant that is fueled by a radioactive element, like uranium. The fuel is placed in a reactor and the individual atoms are allowed to split apart.

Because nuclear power plants do not burn fuel, they do not produce greenhouse gas emissions. By reliably providing power 24 hours a day, nuclear energy is an important part of the energy mix necessary to meet electricity demand.

Nuclear power is the use of nuclear reactions that release nuclear energy to generate heat, which most frequently is then used in steam turbines to produce electricity in a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power can be obtained from nuclear fission, nuclear decay and nuclear fusion.

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