Tag Archive | uranium

… how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station

Chapelcross Nuclear Power Station

This is the last post in our series of posts on nuclear energy.  Here, I shall describe the basic principles behind the design and continued operation of a nuclear reactor.  In our last post, we looked at the techniques responsible for making fissile matter release energy as quickly as possible (in a nuclear explosion).  Today, we will instead look at techniques to control nuclear fission reactions and usefully harness the resultant energy.  Since there are a variety of various nuclear reactor designs and fuels, I shall stick to talking about a reasonably common (although a bit aged) design known as the pressurized-water reactor using U-235 fuel.

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Nuclear Fission: A ‘Critical’ Inquiry

Fission of U-235

Fission of U-235 - wikipedia.org

In the previous post, I described the basic principles behind radioactivity.  In today’s post, I will describe nuclear fission reactions – the technique through which we can deliberately induce heavy atoms to break apart into smaller fragments, releasing energy in through radiation.  In the previous post, we talked about half-lives and what happens to radioactive atoms if one were to leave them alone and let them naturally decay.  As it turns out, there are other ways to make atoms break apart; one can slam atoms with proton and neutrons to make them more unstable, causing them to fragment.  The energy released from this fragmentation can be harnessed in a controlled manner in nuclear reactors, or can be deployed destructively in the form of a nuclear fission bomb. Read More…

“Paging Dr. Freeman”: What Radioactivity Is

Radioactivity - Image via wikipedia

Radioactivity - wikipedia.org

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the subsequent crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plants have propelled nuclear reactors and nuclear energy to the top of every media outlet across the world.  In light of this increased interest in nuclear energy, I have decided to write about radioactivity.  Radioactivity is a natural physical phenomenon that is a consequence of the weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force and the electromagnetic force – three of the four fundamental forces of nature.  It commonly refers to the process by which an unstable atom decays or transmutates to one or more atoms with an accompanying release of energy.  In this article, I will try to explain what radioactivity means and what natural phenomena it describes, why some atoms are radioactive, what radiation is and how it relates to radioactivity.
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