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
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.