Safety Aspects of Nuclear Reactors

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Safety Challenges of Nuclear Reactors

It is important to balance the risks and benefits of nuclear power and to know how to mitigate those risks.

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  • In nuclear power stations, the fuel source is either uranium or plutonium.
  • The fuel rods which contain these isotopes are very radioactive and need to be handled remotely and often encased in concrete.
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Producing uranium

  • Producing power station grade uranium is difficult, as the fissionable isotope, uranium-235, is far less abundant than the other isotopes.
  • There is a centrifuge process which separates out the correct isotope in many stages.
  • There is also a diffusion process as the isotopes, when vaporised, will diffuse through many different chambers at different speeds.
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Nuclear disasters

  • The likelihood of a nuclear power station going wrong is quite small, although the consequences can be large, such as the incident at Chernobyl in 1986.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Nuclear Power

It is important to balance between the risks and benefits of nuclear power, and how to mitigate those risks.

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  • No CO2 released to the atmosphere contributing to greenhouse gases.
  • Responds well to changes in demand.
  • Output per unit mass of fuel is considerably higher than hydrocarbon sources such as oil, coal or gas.
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  • Some radioactive waste is low level and can be handled carefully but safely, often by converting the waste into a hand-sized glass pellet.
  • Other waste materials need storage for hundreds if not thousands of years.
    • This requires a secure, geographically stable location and specialised steel containers.

Jump to other topics

1Measurements & Errors

2Particles & Radiation


4Mechanics & Materials


6Further Mechanics & Thermal Physics (A2 only)

7Fields & Their Consequences (A2 only)

8Nuclear Physics (A2 only)

9Option: Astrophysics (A2 only)

10Option: Medical Physics (A2 only)

11Option: Engineering Physics (A2 only)

12Option: Turning Points in Physics (A2 only)

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