Video: Understanding the Advantages of Nuclear Fission Reactors

Which of the following statements correctly describes the advantages of nuclear fission reactors? [A] Nuclear fission reactors are cheap to build. [B] Nuclear fission reactors are quick to build. [C] Nuclear fission reactors produce extremely large quantities of electricity. [D] Nuclear fission reactors are quick to start up to meet increased demand. [E] Nuclear fission reactors are cheap to maintain. [F] Nuclear fission reactors release no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere once built.

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Video Transcript

Which of the following statements correctly describes the advantages of nuclear fission reactors?

Now we’ve been given six different statements here, so let’s go through them one by one, starting with a) nuclear fission reactors are cheap to build. So is this an advantage of nuclear fission reactors? Well first of all, is it even true? And the answer to that question is no. By no means a nuclear fission reactors cheap to build. In fact, some nuclear reactors can cost up to nine billion US dollars to build. So they are certainly not cheap to build.

Moving on to statement b then: nuclear fission reactors are quick to build. Well once again, is this true? And the answer is no it’s not true. Nuclear fission reactors can take on average up to 6 to 7 years to build. So this statement is also incorrect. Even the quickest builds can take up to two to three years. So this statement is not correct either.

Statement c then, nuclear fission reactors produce extremely large quantities of electricity. Okay, so first of all, is this true? And the answer to that is yes that is true. If we compare one kilogram of coal to one kilogram of uranium, which is what’s used in nuclear reactors most often, let’s say that this one kilogram of coal produces an energy 𝐸. Well on average, uranium could produce 2.5 million times more energy per kilogram than coal can.

So for the same amount of fuel, nuclear power plants can produce a lot more energy. Now in practice, not all of this energy is always used. But there is a capacity for nuclear reactors to produce a lot of electricity. And this statement definitely is an advantage of nuclear fission reactors. So let’s move on to statement d: nuclear fission reactors are quick to start up to meet increased demand.

So, is this statement true? This statement is extremely untrue because when there is an increased demand—for example, when there’s a sporting match on and lots of people are tuning into their televisions; or a funny example from the UK, when it’s tea time roughly around three to four in the afternoon, there is a spike in the demand for electricity because so many people are using their kettles to make tea.

In cases like that, the increase in demand for electricity is really rapid. We need the extra electricity very quickly, and it needs to be generated in the space of minutes, and at most hours. However, nuclear power stations take up to one to three days to start up. So they’re definitely not quick to start up to meet increased demand. Therefore, this statement is not correct.

So statement e then, nuclear fission reactors are cheap to maintain. Now this statement is also untrue. Not only are nuclear reactors really expensive to build, they’re also expensive to maintain. This is because there’s a huge amount of safety risks associated with nuclear reactors. Companies who own nuclear reactors need to ensure that their employees aren’t exposed to any harmful radiation. And for this reason, there are multiple safety precautions that must be taken in order to ensure the safety of the employees and of the general public in the surrounding area.

Finally, statement f then, nuclear fission reactors release no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere once built. Now this statement is true because once again we can compare a fossil fuel, such as coal, with nuclear reactor fuel, such as uranium. Well with fossil fuels, we have to combust them or burn them in order to get energy from them. And this process releases carbon dioxide, because the process of burning something involves oxygen reacting with that object. And in the case of fossil fuels such as coal, they already contain carbon in them. Therefore, the carbon reacts with the oxygen to form carbon dioxide.

However, in nuclear reactors, we’ve got nuclear reactions going on. And that basically involves the splitting of atoms such as uranium into smaller nuclei. And it’s this splitting process that releases the energy. So there’s no burning that occurs in the first place. And hence no carbon dioxide is released by a nuclear reactor once the reactor has been built. And yes, this definitely is an advantage of nuclear reactors.

So at this point we’ve gone through all the statements and found two of them to be advantages of nuclear fission reactors: firstly, that nuclear fission reactors produce extremely large quantities of electricity and, secondly, that nuclear fission reactors released no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere once built.

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