Nuclear power comes from nuclear fission
Most power plants, including nuclear power plants, use heat to produce electricity. Power plants rely on steam from heated water to spin large turbines that generate electricity. Instead of burning fossil fuels to produce steam, nuclear power plants use heat produced during nuclear fission.
In nuclear fission, atoms are split apart to form smaller atoms, releasing energy. Fission takes place inside the reactor of a nuclear power plant. At the center of the reactor is the core, which contains the uranium fuel.
The uranium fuel is formed into ceramic pellets. Each ceramic pellet produces roughly the same amount of energy as 150 gallons of oil. These energy-rich pellets are stacked end-to-end in 12-foot metal fuel rods. A bundle of fuel rods, sometimes hundreds, is called a fuel assembly. A reactor core contains many fuel assemblies.
The heat produced during nuclear fission in the reactor core is used to boil water into steam, which turns the turbine blades. As the turbine blades turn, they drive generators that make electricity. Afterward, the steam is cooled back into water in a separate structure at the power plant called a cooling tower. The water can then be reused.
Nuclear power plants generate about 20% of U.S. electricity
The United States has 61 operating nuclear power plants with 99 nuclear reactors.1 Of the 61 operating nuclear power plants, 35 of the plants have 2 or more reactors. There are nuclear power plants in 30 U.S. states, and 46 plants are located east of the Mississippi River. Nuclear power has supplied about one-fifth of annual U.S. electricity each year since 1990. Nuclear power provides about as much electricity as the total electricity used in California, New York, and Texas combined.
The United States generates more nuclear power than any other country
Of the 30 countries in the world that have commercial nuclear power plants, the United States has the most nuclear capacity and generation. France, the country with the second-highest nuclear capacity, relies on nuclear power for nearly 75% of its electricity. Fourteen other countries generate more than 20% of their electricity from nuclear power.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration