How many atoms are split at a time in a nuclear reactor?

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This is going to be a big number! Each fission releases 200 MeV, and 1 MeV = 1.6 X 10-13 Joules, so 1 fission = 3.2 x 10-11 Joules. Now if the thermal power produced by the reactor is 3000 MW (corresponding to an electrical output of 1000 MW) this means 3000 x 106 Joules per second, or 3 x 109 Joules /sec. So the number of fissions/sec in the reactor is 3 x 109 divided by 3.2 x 10-11 , so if we call 3/3.2 = unity, for simplicity, the number of fissions per second is 1020. I said it would be big!

Reactor physicists use a number called the neutron flux to describe the intensity of the nuclear fission process, this is the number of neutrons crossing an area of 1 sq cm per second. This number helps to define the fuel rating and effects on reactor components in the active core. Obviously the total number of fissions occurring in the reactor overall per second depends on this and the size of the reactor.
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