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Homework: Nuclear fusion, nuclear fission and lifetime of radioactive waste

Energetic Systems

NRC: 5380

Nicolás Carvajal

lncarvajal@espe.edu.ec

Nuclear Fusion

In nuclear physics, nuclear fusion is the process by which various light atomic nucleus become
one nucleus much heavier.

This reaction emits and takes a large amount of energy in form of gamma rays and also kinetic
energy because of the particles emitted. This large amount of energy allows the matter to
transform onto plasma.

The reactions of nuclear fusion can emit or absorb energy. If the mass of the nucleus which are
going to fusion is lower than iron’s mass, energy is emitted, otherwise, the reaction absorbs
energy. (Kevin Fernández-Cosials, 2017)

An example is shown on the Figure 1, we can see that deuterium and tritium are in a fusion
process, on the result we have Helium 4, a neutron is released, 17,59 MeV of energy are
generated and a bit of mass has become energy.

Figure 1. Deuterium and tritium fusion.

There are some requirements for the fusion process to occur. An energy wall produced by
electrostatic force has to be passed. At big distances, nuclei tend to repel each other because
of the electrostatic force, but if they get really close, at the point where strong nuclear force is
present, the two nuclei will fusion; this happens because strong nuclear force is bigger than
electrostatic force (ITER, 2014). We can see what is mentioned before in the Figure 2.

The bigger the nucleus, the bigger the electrostatic energy is, we can say that it increases
without limits.
Figure 2. Electrostatic and strong nuclear forces.

Advantages of nuclear fusion.

 Fusion waste is less problematic than fission waste.


 Is cheap, it is easy to get deuterium.
 If something fails on a nuclear installation is quick and easy to be turned off.

Nuclear fusion is made by compression-decompression, increasing or decreasing the electric


field intensity; for that to be made is necessary to manipulate the electric generator speed.

Nuclear Fission

Nuclear fission is a process occurred in the nucleus of the atom. In this process, a nucleus is
divided in two lighter nuclei; this process also results in free neutrons, photons, alfa particles
and a big amount of energy. A representation of the process can be seen on Figure 3.

Figure 3. Nuclear Fission.

Fission is an exothermic process, big amounts of energy are emitted if form of gamma
radiation and kinetic energy, this causes a heating of the space where the fission is occurring.
In the process, a nucleus of an atom is bombed with particles which attach to the nucleus of
the atom and makes it unstable, the nucleus will divide in another elements. Elements
produced by fission are usually unstable, so they degrade depending on the disintegration
chains (Rosa, et al., 2015).

Characteristics of nuclear fission:

 Fission is usually induced by a free neutron being launched to the atom nucleus, but
also it can be made by launching another nucleus, protons of photons (gamma rays).
 Rarely, a fissionable nucleus will experiment fission without a neutron entering.
 The heaviest the element is, the easier the fission is produced. In fission, contrary to
fusion, heavier elements than iron produce energy and lighter elements than iron
absorb energy.
 The most common used elements for fission are uranium and plutonium. These
elements are abundant and easy to divide.

A chain reaction can be produced in fission by launching 2 or 3 neutrons to a group of nuclei,


when they divide the nucleus some neutrons will escape from the reaction and hit other
nucleus causing a chain reaction. The speed of the neutron launched is very important to be
the adequate, otherwise could just pass the nucleus or stay attached to it. The minimum
quantity of mass required for a chain reaction is called critical mass, it has to be big enough for
increasing the possibilities of a neutron to hit a nucleus; it also depends on the shape of the
fissionable element (Tucci, 2010).

Lifetime of radioactive waste

Radioactive elements are employed on a lot of energetic activities. Nuclear power plants
employ this kind of energy, but also on medicine, investigation, industry, etc. These processes
leave an extremely dangerous waste for the human health and the worst thing is that this
waste emits radiation for millions of years.

There are two kinds of radioactive waste:

High activity waste, which are the ones that emit high radiation dose are principally made of
uranium, which is used in nuclear power plants. The lifetime of the radioactive waste of some
elements are: plutonium 239 (24400 years), neptunium 237 (2130000 years) and plutonium
240 (6600 years).

Medium and low activity waste, emit tiny quantities of radiation, like radioactive clothes, tools
and other elements used on nuclear stations.

A nuclear power plant can last around 25 to 40 years, after that period the nucleus of the
reactor is damaged without the possibility of being repaired. There are three options for
disarming the stations, the first is to wait around 100 years until the levels of radiation
decreases and it’s safer, the second is to cover the installations with cement with danger of
having a fissure in the cement (not recommended), the third and safer is to take the
radioactive materials to specially designed containers and use robots for disarming the rest of
the plant (Prim, 2001).

Some low activity waste is released to the atmosphere in quantities that don’t affect the
environment. Medium activity waste is kept in special containers for some time until the
activity reduces and later are thrown to security rivers. High activity waste is harder to treat,
this waste is solidified and transported from nuclear stations to special containers and later
these are taken underground where they will stay for millions of years.

Bibliography
ITER. (7 de Mayo de 2014). ITER. Obtenido de ITER: https://www.iter.org/sci/whatisfusion

Kevin Fernández-Cosials, A. B. (2017). Curso Básico de Fusión Nuclear. Madrid: SNE.

Rosa, C. V., Pilar, C. R., Soledad, E. S., Angeles, F. M., Marta, P. T., & Dionisia, S. D. (2015).
Principales Compuestos Químicos. Madrid: UNED.

Tucci, A. (2010). Obtencion de Imágenes Médicas. LULU.