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Radiation & Me

Power Generation

In cases where stringing electrical lines proves difficult, for instance, in remote areas, radiation sources are used to produce electrical or thermal power. Radiation sources can be used to power spacecraft and satellites, the lights on ocean buoys, and remote weather stations. They can also be used to generate electrical power for consumer use, as is done in a nuclear reactor.

Of all of these processes, nuclear power is probably the most well known. In the United States, about 100 nuclear reactors produce 20 percent of our electricity needs. Around the world, there are between 400 and 500 reactors producing nearly 20 percent of the world’s electricity. Historically, there have been two main types of reactors—pressurized water reactors (PWR) and boiling water reactors (BWR). Both types use radioactivity (slightly enriched uranium-235 being the most critical) to heat water that will generate steam to turn a turbine that runs a generator, sending the electricity out to the public. In the PWR, the steam does not come in contact with the radioactivity; in the BWR it does.

Today, in addition to the PWR and BWR, there are technologies being researched within the power industry to make the process safer, cleaner, and more efficient. Information on current and new technologies can be found at