Nuclear power plants use a turbine system to collect massive amounts of energy, which is then distributed to electrical company’s across the country. Power plants generally have between 1 and 4 units. A unit is the name for the entire building in which the nuclear power is generated. The first part of the process happens in the reactor, where fuel rods are inserted to heat water. The rods contain uranium, which is split in a process called fission. The water turns to steam, which rotates a turbine inside of the generator. This creates energy that is sent via high voltage transmission lines from generator to tower to customer.
Cooling is also a part of the generator’s cycle. The water must be refilled inside the reactor regularly to ensure that the fueling rods are cooling down. Without water, they can be up to 1200 degrees, melting the rods and the generator itself. A cooling tower is where the steam is condensed back to water and cooled down to be sent back through the cycle. When the cooling system fails, the results can be disastrous.
Shutting down a plant
Power plants are not designed for permanent use. They will operate for 30-60 years depending on the plant. Once their lifetime has ended, the plant stops operating and must be decommissioned within 60 years. Shutting down a plant can be done in three ways: dismantling, enclosure to delay dismantling, and entombment (which will never be dismantled.) According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, this is the process for removing radioactive material:
“The decommissioning process involves removing the used nuclear fuel from the reactor, placing it into the used fuel pool, and eventually into dry storage containers (which can be stored on-site or transported off-site); dismantling systems or components containing radioactive products (e.g., the reactor vessel); and cleaning up or dismantling contaminated materials from the facility. Contaminated materials can be disposed of in two ways: decontaminated on-site or removed and shipped to a waste-processing, storage or disposal facility.”
Generally, a plant is enclosed for up to 50 years to allow the radioactive material to stabilize. The final 10 years are spent removing and storing the waste and deconstructing the building. What remains is a safe site, which can be used for a new purpose.
- Limerick Generating Station, Pottstown, PA: 25 miles
- Salem Nuclear Power Plant, Lower Alloways, NJ: 50 miles
- Oyster Creek Generating Station, Forked River, NJ: 75 miles
- Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Generating Station, Delta, PA: 75 miles
- Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Generating Station, Middletown, PA: 100 miles
There are 61 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors in 30 U.S. states and 449 nuclear reactors in 30 countries worldwide and 60 new nuclear plants are under construction in 15 countries.
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