ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Nuclear Power | Nuclear Power in the US | East Coast Nuclear

Updated on May 2, 2012

Whether you think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread or a major threat to our country, the fact is that the United States relies on nuclear power. The US is home to 104 operational nuclear power plants that are managed by 30 different power companies. In 2009 these plants generated 799 billion kilowatt hours of power which translates into approximately 20% of the total electrical output of the United States, a hefty contribution. In addition to operating plants, there are also 36 research and test reactors housed across the country at universities where they are used for research, testing, and training. 

Nuclear Power Plants | Nuclear Reaction Basics

Obviously, a nuclear power plant is used to generate electricity but how is the process different from a coal burning power plant? Actually, in essence a nuclear power plant creates energy in an identical manner to a typical fossil fuel burning power plant, the difference is the energy source. Both types heat water into pressurized steam that is used to drive a turbine generator that converts mechanical energy into electricity by electromagnetic induction. A standard coal burning power plant generates heat by burning fossils fuels, which provides the energy to the turbine. Conversely, a nuclear power plant gets this energy from a process called induced nuclear fission.

Nuclear fission chain reaction
Nuclear fission chain reaction | Source

Nuclear fission is essentially the splitting of an atom. It is a process where an atomic nucleus absorbs a neutron and splits into two or more lighter elements, releasing free neutrons and radiation. Uranium undergoes spontaneous fission very slowly, but scientists have discovered that fission using Uranium-235 can be induced. U-235 is concentrated in a nuclear reactor to around 2 to 3% (this is called enriched uranium) so that the free neutrons generated by fission have a high probability of coming into contact with more U-235 nuclei which will then also undergo fission setting off a nuclear chain reaction. The splitting of these atoms generates an incredible amount of heat which is then used to heat water into steam and drive a turbine to create electrical energy. The process is very thermogenic, in fact, 1 kilogram of U-235 contains approximately 3 million times the energy of 1 kilogram of coal. With so much energy and heat released, it is vital to control the rate of the reaction to prevent overheating. The rate of the nuclear reaction is controlled by inserting graphite control rods that absorb free neutrons and halt the reaction.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how nuclear reactors generate power let’s take a look at the type of power plants currently in use in the United States. There are 2 types of nuclear power plants currently operating in the US:

  1. Pressurized Water Reactors (PWRs)
  2. Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs)

Pressurized Water Reactor

Schematic representation of pressurized water reactor.
Schematic representation of pressurized water reactor. | Source

Nuclear Power | Pressurized Water Reactors | PWRs


PWRs typically operate by allowing the fission reaction to occur in the reactors core (1) which is kept at under high pressure and creates heat but not steam. Pressurized water (2) carries the heated water to a steam generator (3) where a lower pressure allows the heated water to form steam that is directed to a turbine generator (4) and used to generate electricity. The unused steam is condensed back into water in a condenser and pumped back into the reactor core.

Boiling Water Reactor

Schematic representation of a boiling water reactor.
Schematic representation of a boiling water reactor. | Source

Nuclear Power Plants | Boiling Water Reactors


BWRs, such as the one involved in the Japanese Fukushima incident, are similar to a pressure cooker. The nuclear material is contained in the reactor core (1) which generates heat and steam (2) which moves upward where the steam and water are separated by a steam separator (3) before the steam is allowed into the steam line (4) which directs the steam to a turbine generator and generates electricity. Unused steam is condensed back into water and back into the reactor core.

Therefore, the main difference between PWR and BWR system is that the steam in a PWR is produced in a steam generator, not the reactor core. In constrast, the steam is created directly in the reactor core with a BWR system.

Nuclear power offers some potentially rewarding benefits as well as some unique risks. Some people are strongly if favor of nuclear power while others are vehemently opposed. You can decide for yourself on which side you fall. Here is list of a view points from each side.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Nuclear Power


Advantages

  1. Nuclear power emits very lower levels of carbon dioxide and therefore does not contribute to Global Warming or environmental contamination.
  2. One plant can generate a large amount of electricity.
  3. Nuclear energy is thought to be the cheapest form of energy and therefore has vast economic implications.
  4. Reduced reliance on fossil fuels and their increasing costs.

Disadvantages

  1. Nuclear power plants generate dangerous radioactive waste that must be stored for many years. If obtained by a terrorist group this material could be used in the construction of a nuclear weapon.
  2. Uranium supply is limited and expected to last only 30 to 60 years.
  3. Plant construction can take decades to get up and running.
  4. Plant failure. Under unusual circumstances nuclear plower plants can fail, as it is impossible to build a plant that is immune to every conceivable natural or man-made disaster. The biggest threat is an explosion or leak that allows harmful radioactive material to escape into the environment. See Chernoby disaster for more information.


Nuclear Power Plants in the United States


With 104 nuclear power plants in the United States (69 PWRs and 35 BWR) and at least 10 more units planned or currently under construction, it’s likely that you live a lot closer to one that you realize, especially if you live on the East Coast. Below is a map of the locations of the 104 currently operable nuclear power reactors. Note the high concentration on the East Coast.


Operational US Nuclear Power Plants

Source

With so many reactors in operation in the US what areas would be at risk if one, or all, of these plants were to undergo a catastrophic failure? It's difficult to know for certain, as many factors such as wind speed and direction are unpredictable, but nukepills.com has estimated the radiation zones in the table below.


Nuclear radiation risk map
Nuclear radiation risk map | Source

As you can see much of the area of the United States, in particular the East Coast, is at a high risk of exposure to radiation if there were to be a natural disaster similar to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In particular, if the East Coast were to undergo a dramatic continental shift or tsunami and damage many of these plants it it likely that almost 50% of the US could be at risk of potential radiation exposure.

In terms of nuclear power, whether you see reward or risk, the fact is that the US currently relies heavily on nuclear power to provide energy to millions of homes throughout the country. As it is already here to stay, it would be wise to embrace it and work together to develop strategic plans to prevent any sort of major catastrophe if one of the plants ever has a major failure.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @Enni82.



Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 

      6 years ago from United States

      This is very interesting to me. I am a member of the Medical Reserve Core, and almost all of the states with nuclear reactors are developing radiation disaster plans.

    • KevinSmith1986 profile image

      KevinSmith1986 

      6 years ago

      United States is Trying to Use the Best of it's nuclear resources bu it seems that others are just trying to be up in that LINE OF MISSILE COUNTRY..Where we Stand TALL::

      More Info About Nuclear Weapons At:

      http://www.inchsteps.com

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)