How Does Nuclear Energy Work?
A nuclear reactor produces electricity in much the same way other power plants do. Some form of energy creates heat, which turns water into steam. The pressure of the steam turns a generator, which produces electricity.
The difference is in how the heat is created. Power plants that run on fossil fuels burn coal, oil or natural gas to generate heat. In a nuclear energy facility, heat is produced from splitting atoms – a process called nuclear fission.
- nuclear reactor creates heat that is used to make steam
- the steam turns a turbine connected to an electromagnet, called a generator
- the generator produces electricity
In a Pressurized Water Reactor – the type of reactor being built in the UAE – high pressure prevents water in the reactor vessel from boiling. The super-heated water is carried to a steam generator, which is made up of many small pipes. The heat in these pipes is used to turn a second, isolated, supply of water to steam, which is in turn used to drive the turbine. The water from the reactor is pumped back into the reactor vessel and reheated. The steam from the turbine is cooled in a condenser and the resulting water is sent back to the steam generator.
Enriched uranium is the fuel for nuclear reactors. Uranium is an abundant, naturally radioactive element found in most rocks. As uranium breaks down or decays, it produces heat inside the Earth’s crust. A similar process generates heat inside a nuclear reactor.
Fission is the process of splitting a nucleus in two.
Inside each uranium fuel pellet, there are millions of uranium nuclei. When these nuclei are split, a huge amount of energy is released. Some of this energy is from radiation, but the biggest source is kinetic energy. This is the energy that produces heat inside a reactor, which in turn is used to generate steam, and ultimately creates electricity.