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Never ending Universe

Sabtu, 06 September 2008

Nuclear Fission

Nuclear Fission

If a massive nucleus like uranium-235 breaks apart (fissions), then there will be a net yield of energy because the sum of the masses of the fragments will be less than the mass of the uranium nucleus. If the mass of the fragments is equal to or greater than that of iron at the peak of the binding energy curve, then the nuclear particles will be more tightly bound than they were in the uranium nucleus, and that decrease in mass comes off in the form of energy according to the Einstein equation. For elements lighter than iron, fusion will yield energy.

Other fissionable isotopes are plutonium-239, uranium-233,

and thorium-232

Uranium-235 Fission

In one of the most remarkable phenomena in nature, a slow neutron can be captured by a uranium-235 nucleus, rendering it unstable toward nuclear fission. A fast neutron will not be captured, so neutrons must be slowed down by moderation to increase their capture probability in fission reactors. A single fision event can yield over 200 million times the energy of the neutron which triggered it!

Uranium Fuel

Natural uranium is composed of 0.72% U-235 (the fissionable isotope), 99.27% U-238, and a trace quantity 0.0055% U-234 . The 0.72% U-235 is not sufficient to produce a self-sustaining critical chain reaction in U.S. style light-water reactors, although it is used in Canadian CANDU reactors. For light-water reactors, the fuel must be enriched to 2.5-3.5% U-235.

Uranium is found as uranium oxide which when purified has a rich yellow color and is called "yellowcake". After reduction, the uranium must go through an isotope enrichment process. Even with the necessity of enrichment, it still takes only about 3 kg of natural uranium to supply the energy needs of one American for a year.

Fissionable Isotopes

While uranium-235 is the naturally occuring fissionable isotope, there are other isotopes which can be induced to fission by neutron bombardment. Plutonium-239 is also fissionable, and both it and uranium-235 have been used to make nuclear fission bombs. Plutonium-239 can also be produced by "breeding" it from non-fissionable uranium-238. Some of the nuclear reactors at Hanford, Washington and the Savannah-River Plant (SC) are designed for the production of bomb-grade plutonium-239. The only other isotope which is known to undergo fission upon neutron bombardment is uranium-233. Thorium-232 is fissionable, so could conceivably be used as a nuclear fuel.

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