A Model Nuclear Power Plant Steam Turbine

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In this activity (on pages 20-23 of PDF), learners build a model of a power plant using simple materials. The activity specifically refers to a nuclear reactor, but it is a good model for the way a coal, oil, natural gas, or geothermal power plant works. The main difference is whether the burning can of Sterno represents Uranium breaking down (nuclear), fossil fuels burning (coal, oil natural gas), or energy from the earth's crust (geothermal). Also, in a real plant the turbine wheel is attached to a generator, and that's how electricity would be generated. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on Archive.org.]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
5 to 10 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Model


Materials List (per student)

  • A small unopened can of your favorite fruit juice
  • An empty soup can
  • A clean finishing nail
  • A wire coat hanger
  • A can of Sterno canned heat
  • An eye dropper
  • Two small sheet metal screws
  • Tinsnips
  • Hammer


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Nuclear Engineering
    • Technology
  • Physical Sciences
    • Heat and Thermodynamics
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and History


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Benrey, Ronald


  • All rights reserved, Thomas Alva Edison Foundation, Inc., 1976

Funding Source:

  • Exxon Nuclear Company, Inc.