Nuclear Power Plants

By: Andrew Basin

The word “nuclear” carries a very destructive connotation, and for good reason. Nuclear reactions have created the most powerful bombs ever detonated, and have caused mass destruction and many deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in wartime, and at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island in peacetime. Although nuclear reactions can be very detrimental to society, they can also be very helpful. Case in point: nuclear power plants.

Nuclear power plants create nuclear power (a non-renewable energy source) with the help of two types of reactors, both using fission (the joining of two atoms), as fusion is uncontrollable with current technology. The two type of reactors are the boiling water reactor (BWR) and the pressurized water reactor (PWR). The PWR is pictured below, and has two water loops: a pressurized loop and a non-pressurized loop. The pressurized loop goes around the reactor, heating up, but not boiling, as it is under pressure. That loop goes through a steam generator, which is connected to the non-pressurized loop. When the water in the non-pressurized loop heats up, it turns to steam, which then spins a turbine connected to a generator, creating electricity. The steam then goes through a condenser, which turns it back into liquid water. From there, the cycle repeats. The BWR is not much different, except that it eliminates the pressurized loop, and the non-pressurized loop goes directly around the reactor.  Combined, these two types of nuclear reactors produce 20% of electricity used in the United States.