How we generate nuclear electricity

We take a look at how we can create low carbon electricity from nuclear power

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How we generate nuclear electricity

We take a look at how we can create low carbon electricity from nuclear power

It all starts with uranium

Uranium is the naturally-occurring element at the heart of all nuclear power stations. Far from rare, it is found in abundance around the world.

It’s mined from the ground at sites in Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan. The abundance of uranium, and the stable nature of the regions it is found in, are two of the reasons that we believe nuclear power is such a strong option for the UK’s energy mix.

Once mined, the raw uranium ore is then ‘enriched’, which basically means it’s prepared for use as fuel for power stations. The end result is small fuel pellets. One small pellet, which is about the size of a peanut, is capable of generating as much power as 800kg of coal. The pellets are then loaded into fuel pins, hundreds of fuel pins make up each fuel element, and thousands of fuel elements make up each fuel assembly. Which means an incredible 5.5 million uranium pellets sit at the core of each nuclear reactor.

Station Director giving a thumbs up
Station Director giving a thumbs up

Power from our people

Behind the doors of our nuclear power stations are teams of highly skilled and experienced engineers. They work around the clock to produce low carbon electricity for the UK. Around 750 people at each of our stations carry the responsibility of generating this power safely and effectively.

The engineering roles within the station are diverse. From Reactor Engineers who are responsible for keeping the reactors working from the control room, to Environmental Safety Engineers who make sure we minimise the impact of our activites on the environment around us.

This huge team is the driving force behind our nuclear power generation. It’s their dedication and skill, combined with uranium and our power stations that generate enough electricity to power more than 14 million homes in the UK.

The final step – dealing with the waste

Nuclear power produces radioactive waste that gives off a lot of heat and needs to be carefully and safely managed. Most of this radioactive waste is low-level – this means its radioactivity is short-lived and the waste can be incinerated or buried in shallow ground.

A very small amount of high-level waste is produced, from the substances left over after the nuclear reaction. This waste needs to be shielded from people and the environment for many years. Stored for 50 to 60 years in robust, designated storage facilities allows it to cool enough and reduces radioactivity enough to make it safe.