How Do Nuclear Plants Work?

  • Author: ChemistryViews
  • Published Date: 15 March 2011
  • Copyright: WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim
thumbnail image: How Do Nuclear Plants Work?

In a nuclear station electricity is generated through heat which turns water to steam in steam generators. The steam is then used to drive turbine generators. This is similar to the process of generating electricity in a coal-fired steam station. The main difference is the source of heat. In nuclear power stations uranium atoms undergo fissioning or splitting. The chain reaction produces heat which is transferred to water. In coal-fired steam stations burning of coal is the source of heat.

There are two types of nuclear reactor in common usage today—the boiling-water reactor (BWR) and the pressurized water reactor (PWR). In BWRs, such as the ones at Fukushima Daiichi, the heated water is allowed to boil and turn into steam to turn the generator. In PWRs, which constitute many of the western nuclear power plants, the heated water is kept under pressure so that it heats but does not boil (see picture below). Water from the reactor and the water that is turned into steam are in separate pipes and never mix.
In both types electrical pumps keep the water running and an additional water system (connected to a cooling tower or e.g. a lake) cools the steam.

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