How Nuclear Plants Work

Nuclear power plants are similar in operation to fossil plants. The difference is the fuel. In a nuclear power plant, uranium - a natural ore that has been enriched - is used, and steam is generated through fission instead of burning oil, gas or coal. Nuclear power plants do not burn any fuel, so there are no pollutants released into the air.

The process works like this:

Stage Description
Tiny parts of the uranium, known as atoms, are made to split, or fission.
During fission, even smaller particles of the atom, called neutrons, are released.
The neutrons strike more uranium atoms, resulting in the release of heat needed to generate electricity.

There are two types of reactors in the United States:

Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs)

Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs) boil water so that it is converted to steam. The steam drives a turbine connected to a generator before being recycled back into water by a condenser and used again in the heat process.

Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs)

Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs) keep water under pressure so that it heats up but does not boil. Water from the reactor and water in the steam generator never mix.