EEI > Issues & Policy > Generation > Fuel Diversity > Nuclear
Power plants that generate electricity from nuclear energy are similar in structure to power plants that use fossil fuels (coal and natural gas): high-pressure steam is used to turn a turbine, which spins the shaft of a generator. Inside the generator, a coil of wire spins in a magnetic field to create electricity.
Instead of burning coal or natural gas to boil the water in order to create the steam, nuclear energy uses a process called "fission" (splitting atoms of uranium). When atoms split, heat is produced. Nuclear power plants generally produce between 600 and 1,200 megawatts (MW) of electricity.

Nuclear Power Technologies

Increased nuclear capacity and advanced nuclear designs are key elements to generating electricity with fewer emissions. The industry has increased the capacity of existing nuclear plants, and several electric companies are building new nuclear facilities. The industry also supports the advancement of small modular reactors and a solution to the long-term management of spent fuel. 

Additionally, the industry also is actively participating in domestic and international partnerships to further the development of next-generation nuclear technologies. Some of these partnerships and programs are:
  • ​Nuclear Power 2010
    This program is a joint government/industry cost-shared effort to identify sites for new nuclear power plants, as well as to develop and implement advanced nuclear plant technologies.
  • Generation III
    Referred to as "advanced-design nuclear power plants," these reactors include the advanced boiling water reactor (ABWR), the System 80+ advanced pressurized water reactor (APWR 80+), and the AP600 passive-design reactor. These designs have been built and are currently in operation in the United States.

    The AP600, which has been certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), will need 50 percent less building volume, 50 percent fewer valves, 80 percent fewer pipes, 35 percent fewer large pumps, and 70 percent less control cable. Because of their simplicity, the smaller plants can also be built much faster than recent U.S. nuclear plants. The goal is a construction time of three to four years.

    The technology focus of the Nuclear Power 2010 program and beyond is on Generation III+ and Generation IV advanced light water reactor designs, which offer advancements over the Generation III designs certified in the 1990s.
  • Generation III+
    These reactors are expected to be deployed by 2010. They have been under development since the 1990s and are in various stages of design and implementation. They include the pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) and the AP1000. Both have passive safety designs and the PBMR is gas-cooled-two technological features that foreshadow Generation IV reactors.
  • Generation IV
    These reactors will probably be deployed by 2030 and are expected to be highly economical, incorporate enhanced safety, produce minimal waste, and be impervious to proliferation. The International Reactor Innovative & Secure Project reactor is furthest along in development. Another Generation IV reactor is the gas-turbine modular helium reactor, which has passive safety features and is gas-cooled.
  • ​Global Nuclear Energy Partnership
    This partnership pairs the United States with other advanced nuclear nations to develop a transparent fuel market and spent nuclear fuel recycling technology while reducing nuclear proliferation risks.