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Question Video: Describing Problems Associated with Using Nuclear Energy for Electricity Generation Science

Which of the following statements correctly describes a problem associated with using nuclear energy for electricity generation? [A] Radioactive waste is produced. [B] A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.

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Video Transcript

Which of the following statements correctly describes a problem associated with using nuclear energy for electricity generation? (A) Radioactive waste is produced. (B) A nuclear reactor can explode like a nuclear bomb.

When we say that nuclear energy is used for electricity generation, we mean that unstable atomic nuclei emit nuclear radiation and the nuclear radiation transfers energy to water to boil the water. This happens in nuclear power plants. The question asks whether this process can result in an explosion like the explosion of a nuclear weapon or whether the process can produce radioactive waste.

What is radioactive waste though? A “waste product” is something that is produced which has no use. Radioactive waste must then be something that is produced in a nuclear power plant and which is radioactive. We know that to generate electricity, a nuclear power plant must use some nuclear fuel. Nuclear fuel is matter that contains atoms with unstable nuclei. We know too that when unstable nuclei decay, they emit some particles and electromagnetic waves. We also know that the decay of a nucleus may change the nucleus into one of a different element or, if the nucleus loses only neutrons, into a different isotope of the same element.

What is important to understand is that when a nucleus decays, it does not become nothing. It just changes what element or isotope it is a nucleus of. There is still a nucleus left over after the decay. If nuclei have decayed, they may be stable or unstable after the decay. If the nuclei are unstable after the decay, then matter containing them is radioactive.

It is important to understand however that the nuclei in nuclear fuel must each release an unusually great amount of energy when they decay to be useful as a fuel for a nuclear power plant. If a nucleus only releases a small amount of energy when it decays, it is not useful as fuel for a nuclear power plant.

So if nuclei in an object that have decayed are unstable, but these nuclei cannot release a lot of energy, then that object is radioactive, and it is not useful as a fuel in a nuclear power plant. It is then a radioactive waste product, or radioactive waste.

Option (A) says that radioactive waste is produced by nuclear power plants, and this is correct. Option (B) is incorrect, as it says that nuclear power plants can explode like nuclear bombs. The nuclear fuel in a nuclear power plant cannot usually transfer energy quickly enough to produce an explosion like this, only quickly enough to boil water.

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