These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work

If you're anything like me, you've probably wondered how a nuclear reactor works. When you look at pictures nuclear power plants, questions must march through your head. Why are some of them shaped like weather balloons? How do they keep the fuel safe? Where's Mr. Burns's office?

Well, these cutaway drawings can supply some answers. The University of New Mexico library maintains an extensive collection of wall charts depicting nuclear reactors from all over the world with their innards exposed in exquisite, three-dimensional detail. Everything is technically accurate and to scale. They're also labelled according to the type of reactor they are. PWR stands for "pressurized water reactor," and AGR means "advanced gas-cooled reactor," for example.

The drawings were produced from the 1950s to the 1990s by Nuclear Engineering International as an insert in their magazine, and were often on display in nuclear engineers' offices, as a blogger from the American Nuclear Society remembers. A few years ago, one such engineer from Sandia National Laboratories realized that many of the wall charts were being lost to wear and tear, so he worked with UNM libraries to digitize all 105 published by the magazine.

We've collected some of the most eye-catching ones below. Be sure to click the title to download the full-sized PDFs. In the meantime, which one would you want to explore first? [UNM via Architizer]


N.S. Savannah Research PWR (USA)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


DWR/PWR 1300 (Germany)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


BR3 PWR (Belgium)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Windscale AGR (UK)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Indian Point PWR (USA)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Wifla Magnox (UK)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Argos PWHR-380 (Argentina)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Fulton HTGR (USA)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


SNUPPS: Standardized Nuclear Unit Power Plant System (USA)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Guangdong (China)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Crays-Malville Super Phenix (France)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Douglas Point BWR/6 (USA)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work


Grand Gulf (USA)

These Vintage Cutaway Drawings Show How Nuclear Reactors Really Work

All images via UNM Digital Collections