In modern nuclear power plants, heat is generated by nuclear fission, meaning that uranium atoms are split to release large amounts of energy. This heat is used to convert water to steam and drive an electricity-generating turbine. Nuclear power accounts for almost 30% of the electricity produced in the European Union. In contrast to fossil fuels, nuclear power has the advantage that it does not produce large amounts of CO2 and thus does not contribute to global warming. However, it is not without drawbacks. The radioactive waste it generates is harmful to both human health and the environment, requiring safe storage for hundreds of years. Furthermore, nuclear disasters like the one in Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011) have raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants and opened discussions of benefits versus costs.
In order to safely handle the enormous amounts of heat produced by nuclear fission, these power plants rely on a cooling system. As water is a great way to cool down a reactor, many plants are located along rivers and coasts where water is plentiful and free. Although the water does not come in contact with radioactive material, the use of ambient water for cooling does affect the local environment. The map of the week features the locations of coastal nuclear power plants as well as their operational status. Find out which coastal nuclear power plant is nearest to you and click on it to explore its type of cooling system, water source and other properties.