Quiz: What Do You Know About Nuclear Power?
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You know that the Fukushima Daiichi is now the site of one of the worst nuclear power crises the world has ever faced, but how much do you really know about energy generated by fission?
What country uses the most nuclear power?
- The United States
Although the United States has not built a new nuclear power station since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, its 104 existing plants produce more electricity than all the atomic facilities in the next two nations, France and Japan, combined.
What country opened the first civilian nuclear power plant in 1954?
- The United States
- The United Kingdom
- The Soviet Union
The first civilian nuclear power plant, known as Atom Mirny (“Peaceful Atom”), opened in the so-called “City of Science,” Obninsk, just 68 miles (110 kilometers) outside of Moscow. It continued operating through 2002, and defueling was not finished until 2008.
In the harsh winter of 2010-11, France’s need for heating was so great that all 58 of its nuclear reactors were hooked up to the electrical grid for the first time in six years. About what percentage of France's electricity is from nuclear power?
- 25 percent
- 40 percent
- 60 percent
- 80 percent
France derives 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power. By contrast, nuclear power supplies 20 percent of electricity in the United States, and about 30 percent in Japan.
The International Nuclear Event Scale rates nuclear accidents on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 meaning "no safety significance" and 7 meaning "major accident." How many accidents before the year 2011 have merited a 7 rating?
The Chernobyl incident in 1986 has been the only one classified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a 7. An explosion at Kyshtym, Russia, in 1957 rated a 6 ("serious accident"), and the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 rated a 5 ("accident with wider [than local] consequences")
Nuclear power is produced by splitting uranium atoms. The heat from the chain reaction that follows then boils water, which powers turbines that create electricity. Burning coal does the same thing, but how much coal would you need to rival one pound of uranium in terms of energy production?
- 300 pounds
- 1 million pounds
- 2.5 million pounds
- 3 million pounds
The electricity produced by one pound of uranium is equivalent to the power generated by roughly 3 million pounds of coal. Uranium’s ability to deliver so much energy is why U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Chair Lewis Strauss predicted in the 1950s that “atomic furnaces” would eventually provide electricity that was “too cheap to meter.”
By the World Nuclear Association’s tally, as of March 2011, which country had outlined plans to build 50 more nuclear reactors by the year 2030, more than any other country?
- North Korea
To power its dramatic economic growth, China is expected to need up to 1,500 gigawatts of electricity generating capacity by 2015—that’s up 50 percent from 2010. Even with a large number of reactors planned, nuclear energy would make up less than 3 percent of that total—with most expected to come from coal.
Since uranium can provide a large amount of steady power, known as “base-load” power, without carbon dioxide emissions, some look to increasing nuclear energy as a global warming solution. A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study projected that 25 percent of expected future carbon emissions could be eliminated by what amount of increase in worldwide nuclear electricity?
- 25 percent
In their 2003 “Future of Nuclear Power” study, MIT researchers said that expanding worldwide nuclear generating capacity almost threefold, to 1,000 billion watts, by 2050, would avoid 1.8 billion tons of carbon emissions annually from coal plants.
The key issue triggering the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant following the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami in Japan was the loss of the cooling system to control the radioactive fuel and spent fuel. How much water per day did the Japanese government say was needed to cool each reactor?
- 5,000 gallons (19,000 liters)
- 12,000 gallons (45,400 liters)
- 16,000 gallons (60,600 liters)
- 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters)
Even after the nuclear fission process is stopped, the fuel and spent fuel assemblies still generate significant amounts of radiation and heat, called decay heat, without the constant circulation of water. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says active cooling is needed for three years after spent fuel is removed from a reactor core.
One week after the nuclear power crisis began at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, radiation dose rates at its troubled reactor 3 ranged between 2,500 and 5,000 millirems per hour. What was the total radiation dose to the surrounding population after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident?
- 1 millirem
- 100 millirems
- 500 millirems
- 5,000 millirems
Estimates are that the average dose to about 2 million people in central Pennsylvania near Three Mile Island was 1 millirem. The collective dose was small when compared to the natural radioactive background dose of about 100 to 125 millirems per year for that area, or even to the dose from a single chest x-ray, of about 6 millirems.
A typical nuclear power plant generates about 20 metric tons of uranium fuel waste per year. Ten years after it is removed from a reactor, how radioactive is the typical spent fuel assembly, in terms of surface dose rate? (A fatal whole-body dose of radiation for humans is about 500 rems—if received at one time.)
- 100 rems/hour
- 500 rems/hour
- 1,000 rems/hour
- 10,000 rems/hour
Some radioactive isotopes in high-level waste have extremely long half-lives, and long-term safe storage has been one of the industry’s greatest challenges. Spent fuel is kept on-site in pools with circulating water, or stored in dried casks surrounded by inert gas. Nuclear waste reprocessing is used by some facilities in Europe, Russia, and Japan. The amount of spent fuel stored at Fukushima Daiichi would have been far greater, but the plant had been sending some used fuel for reprocessing.
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