frequent questions

Frequent Questions

Answers to the most frequently asked questions about our nuclear plant operation appear below. 

Do you have an additional question you’d like to see answered here? Please e-mail us.

How is nuclear energy used to generate electricity?

The electricity you use in your home is produced at a power plant, where fuel is used to boil water. The difference between a nuclear power plant and a fossil-fuel power plant is the heat source. Instead of burning coal, oil or gas, nuclear plants produce heat by splitting atoms. This process is called fission. Inside the reactor, pellets of uranium are stacked end-to-end in 12-foot long fuel rods. These rods are precisely arranged in bundles within the reactor with spaces between the bundles for control rods.  The control rods can be moved in and out of the reactor to stop and start the fission process.

The heat generated in the fuel rods is transferred to water flowing through the reactor. As the water circulates, it begins to boil and turns to steam. This high- temperature steam travels through large steam lines at high pressure to the turbine. The force of the steam spins the turbine like a high-speed windmill, which in turn, spins the rotor of the electric generator.


Nuclear energy does not contribute to global warming—how is that?

Nuclear power is the only large-scale source of baseload generation that does not produce greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, or other controlled air emissions, like nitrogen oxides (NOx) or sulfur dioxide (SO2). Taking all 104 U.S. nuclear power plants into consideration, this leads to the reduction of approximately 10,000 tons of NOx and 32,000 tons of SO2 each year. It is estimated that a single Boiling Water Reactor built to the latest design standard would offset 7.4 million tons of greenhouse gases and 5.1 million tons of coal use each year.


Why does Michigan need more electricity generated with nuclear energy?

No new base load power plants have been built in Michigan since the late-1980s and none currently are planned.  As the state’s recent capacity needs study found, base load plants, as opposed to natural gas-fired peakers and renewables, will be needed to provide long-term reliable and affordable energy. It is important that nuclear power remain part of the energy mix for Michigan.  Nuclear power addresses growing concerns over carbon dioxide emissions and greenhouse gas.


How is used nuclear fuel handled?

Used nuclear fuel cannot explode and does not burn. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has overall responsibility for the disposal of used nuclear fuel. In September 2007, the DOE licensing application for a long-term repository at Yucca Mountain, NV, was docketed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At a national and international level research is also under way to develop fuel reprocessing technology that would significantly reduce the amount of fuel waste. In the interim, used nuclear fuel is stored on site at U.S. plants in wet storage pools and dry fuel storage facilities. Our Fermi 2 plant currently uses a wet storage pool and will begin building dry cask storage units in 2010.  On-site dry fuel storage will be used until spent fuel can be shipped to the federal repository. 


What is Dry Cask Storage?

Dry Cask Storage is a simple, yet very safe and reliable system that securely seals used nuclear fuel in massive, airtight, steel and concrete cylinders. Dry Cask Storage is a proven technology which has been used at various U.S. nuclear facilities since the mid 1980s. Two nuclear power plant sites in Michigan currently use dry cask storage units -- Big Rock and Palisades.  Detroit Edison is constructing a facility for Dry Cask Storage units.  Learn more.


What is radiation?

Radiation is energy in the form of particles or waves. There are many forms of radiation, including acoustic, infrared, radar, microwave, ultraviolet and ionizing. Ionizing radiation is all around us, and it is used with nuclear technology in numerous beneficial ways. People living near Fermi 2 receive less than one millirem of exposure a year due to that plant's operation. This compares to the 360 millirem of exposure a person typically receives annually from natural background radiation and other man-made sources.


Why do I see smoke coming out of the stacks?

The cooling towers you see are natural chimneys which use air to cool the water heated by the reactor. The clouds rising from the cooling towers are not smoke, but clean water vapor. As the water leaves the cooling towers, it is returned to the reservoir and held there to repeat the cycle. Since the cooling water does not come in contact with the steam from the reactor, the water in the reservoir and cooling towers is not radioactive – it is simply filtered lake water.