How Do Nuclear Power Plants Work? Explained

energy transformation nuclear

In this article, we’ll explore the process of a nuclear power plant. Please keep reading.

A nuclear power plant’s core components are its nuclear reactors. They contain and regulate nuclear chain reactions that release heat through a physical process known as fission. In order to produce electricity, a turbine is spun by the steam produced by that heat.

At nuclear power plants, three mutual energy form conversions take place: thermal energy is converted from nuclear energy into mechanical energy, and mechanical energy is then converted into electrical energy.

Please read this article to learn more about how a nuclear power plant works.

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How Does a Nuclear Power Plant Work?

A nuclear power plant operates similarly to a traditional thermal plant, where thermal energy is produced by burning fossil fuels. But in a nuclear reactor, the uranium atoms in the nuclear fuel undergo nuclear fission chain reactions to produce this energy.

Water is heated at high pressure and high temperature until it turns into steam using the thermal energy that has been released. Through the use of steam, a turbine that is connected to a generator spins, producing mechanical energy that is then converted into electrical energy.

There are different types of nuclear reactors, but two outstanding designs are present in over 80% of the almost 450 operative units in the world:

  • Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR)
  • Boiling Water Reactor (BWR)

The way a nuclear power plant works can be simplified into five stages:

energy transformation nuclear
  1. Inside the nuclear reactor, uranium fission occurs. A significant amount of energy is released, and this energy heats the coolant water that is flowing at very high pressure. Using the primary circuit, this water is moved to a heat exchanger (steam generator) where it is converted to steam.
  2. Through a secondary circuit, this steam is delivered to the generator turbine set.
  3. Once there, the turbine’s vanes move the alternator, converting the mechanical energy there into electrical energy.
  4. The water steam is directed to a condenser after passing through the turbine so that it can cool and reconstitute itself as liquid water.

The water is then moved to the brand-new steam generator, where it is converted back into steam inside a closed circuit.


For nuclear reactors, enriched uranium is used as fuel. Most rocks contain uranium, a plentiful and naturally radioactive element. Inside the Earth’s crust, uranium decays and disintegrates, creating heat. In a nuclear reactor, a similar process produces heat.

Nuclear Fission

A nucleus can be split in two through a process called fission.

Millions of uranium nuclei can be found inside each pellet of uranium fuel. There is a tremendous amount of energy released when these nuclei split. While radiation is a source of some of this energy, kinetic energy is by far the main contributor. In a reactor, this energy is what creates heat, which in turn produces steam, which then turns into electricity.

You can learn more about other types of power plants, such as Hydroelectric Power PlantsThermal Power PlantsGeothermal Power PlantsSolar Power PlantsWind Power PlantsTidal Power Plants, and Biomass Power Plants.

Main Components of a Nuclear Reactor

As previously stated, a nuclear reactor is a location with the ability to start, maintain, and stop nuclear fission chain reactions under controlled conditions, as well as having the necessary equipment to extract the heat produced.

Its main components are:

energy transformation nuclear
  • Fuel. the substance, typically enriched uranium dioxide, in which the fission reactions occur. It serves as a source of neutrons and energy at the same time to keep the chain reaction going. It is presented in a solid state as cylindrical pills enclosed in several-meter-long metallic rods.
  • Moderator. Water causes the fission’s fast neutrons to decay more slowly, causing subsequent fissions and maintaining the chain reaction.
  • Cooling water. The same water that causes the fissions acts as a moderator and extracts the heat produced by the fission reaction from the uranium in the fuel.
  • Control rods. the reactor’s control mechanisms. Neutron absorbers are what they do. These indium-cadmium or boron carbide rods allow for constant neutron population control while maintaining reactor stability as well as the ability to halt the reaction as needed.
  • Shielding. It stops radiation and neutron leakage from the reactor to the outside. Typically, shielding is constructed of steel, concrete, or lead.
  • Safety elements. To stop radioactivity from leaking outside, all nuclear power plants are equipped with a number of safety systems. One of these systems is the containment structure.

What is Nuclear Energy?

Electricity generated using nuclear energy is efficient and dependable worldwide. In more than 30 nations, there are currently more than 400 commercial reactors in operation.

Nuclear energy is typically defined as the energy released during a chain reaction, particularly during fission or fusion. Practically speaking, nuclear energy produces steam and electricity using fuel that is made from uranium that has been mined and processed.

Baseload power, which is a reliable, constant supply of power, can only be reliably produced by nuclear energy without producing greenhouse gases.

Of all the electricity sources, nuclear energy has one of the least negative environmental effects on the land and natural resources.

What Does a Nuclear Power Plant Consist Of?

In every nation, a nuclear power plant is typically a collection of structures that house various processing facilities. The first structure is where the reactor hall is located. The main control room (MCR) staff members are constantly on duty in this building, which also houses the reactor, the spent fuel storage area, and the refueling machine (for refueling operations).

The central component of the reactor, where the chain reaction takes place, is called the core. Any reactor must have the control and protection system necessary to implement the chosen chain reaction mode as well as the reactor trip system intended to quickly stop the reaction in an emergency.

energy transformation nuclear

The turbine hall, which houses the turbine, electric generator, and auxiliary system, is housed in the second building. Transformers and high-voltage power lines that extend beyond the plant site are the following links in the process chain.

Nuclear Power and Climate Change

Nuclear power is a low-carbon source of energy, because, unlike coal, oil, or gas power plants, nuclear power plants practically do not produce CO2 during their operation. Nearly one-third of the world’s carbon-free electricity is produced by nuclear reactors, which are crucial for achieving climate change objectives.

Worldwide Facts

Nuclear energy has reliably generated electricity for the entire planet for more than 60 years. Currently, more than 400 reactors are in operation across more than 30 nations.

Without emitting greenhouse gases, these plants produce about 10% of the world’s electricity.

Given the rising demand for electricity and the growing concerns over climate change, more countries are looking into the use of nuclear energy.

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