How a nuclear power plant works
A nuclear power plant is a condensing power plant. It generates electricity on the same principle as a plant powered by coal, oil or biomass.
Condensing power plants
Water is heated and converted into steam, which drives a turbine. A generator fitted to the turbine axel converts the kinetic energy into electricity.
Chain reactions and radiation
In the nuclear reactor, a self-sustaining chain reaction of atom splitting (or fission) is started. The heat from this reaction makes the water in the reactor tank boil. During the process, the fuel does not undergo any outward change, but physics-related changes do take place – new elements or isotopes are formed, and the nuclear fuel becomes highly radioactive or isotopes are formed, and the nuclear fuel becomes highly radioactive.
The nuclear fission process
A neutron is hurled at a uranium atom.
2. Uranium atom
The nucleus of the uranium-235 isotope is hit by the neutron and split, releasing energy.
3. Newly formed neutrons
The newly formed neutrons that are released can be used to split new uranium nuclei, continuing the process.
See how a pressurised water reactor and a boiling water reactor work.
Pressure water reactor
Boiling water reactor