Nuclear power plant

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This article is about Nuclear power plants. For other uses of the term Power, please see Power (disambiguation).

A nuclear power plant is one that uses the energy derived from controlled (non-explosive) nuclear reactions to generate power such as electricity. Currently, nuclear power plants use the heat energy derived from nuclear fission reactions to generate steam, which in turn is used to generate power. The power from the nuclear power plant can be electrical, commonly sold commercially similarly to other electric power plants, or can provide direct mechanical drive power, typically used for ship propulsion mostly in Navy ships. There are several types of nuclear plants depending on the type of nuclear reactor used. Currently, the two most common types are pressurized water reactors (PWR) and boiling water reactors (BWR).

See also: Nuclear power reconsidered


Ideas for nuclear fission reactors and power plants were conceptualized in the 1940s and developed in the 1950s, in the United States of America and followed closely by other countries. The first "assembly" where a controlled nuclear fission chain reaction was conducted was the Chicago Pile-1 assembled and tested in 1942 at the University of Chicago under physicist Enrico Fermi. In 1951 in Idaho, Experimental Breeder Reactor 1 (EBR-1) was the first nuclear reactor to produce electricity. Development of nuclear power plants for Naval ship propulsion power proceeded along with development for civilian electrical power. Much of the preliminary work was done at US government facilities, and a number of the first experimental nuclear power plants were built in an isolated US government area in Idaho, later to be called the Idaho National Laboratory. The first full scale Naval ship (submarine) working prototype plant was built at this Idaho facility and became operational in 1953, with other prototype Naval nuclear plants to follow afterwards there and at other locations. In 1955, the nearby town of Arco, Idaho became the first city lit by nuclear power, which came from a BORAX-III reactor. Soon, other countries such as the Soviet Union became involved in nuclear plant work.

The Calder Hall nuclear power plant in the United Kingdom was the world's first nuclear power plant to produce electricity in commercial quantities and began operations in 1956.[1] The Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Shippingport, Pennsylvania was the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States of America and was opened in 1957.[2] As of 2007, There were more than 430 operational nuclear power plants worldwide and they produced about 15% of the world's electricity.[3][4] There have also been a couple hundred smaller scale nuclear plants aboard ships for propulsion power, mostly direct mechanical drive plants for navy ships.


  1. Helge Kragh (1999). Quantum Generations: A History of Physics in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press, page 286. ISBN 0-691-09552-3. 
  2. Unique reactors From the website of the Energy Information Administration, (EIA).
  3. The Number of Reactors in Operation Worldwide From the website of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  4. Projections Continue to Rise for Nuclear Power, but Relative Generation Share Declines From the Website of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).