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There are actually three types of events that are commonly referred to as "nuclear reactions".

The first, and simplest, is RADIOACTIVE DECAY. Some atoms have nuclei which are unstable; generally these are isotopes of very heavy elements. To achieve stability, the nucleus of such an atom will emit radiation, which can be in the form of particles or energy. The four most common emissions are alpha particles, beta particles, neutrons and gamma rays.

Alpha particles are extremely large; they consist of two protons and two neutrons - basically a helium atom with no electrons. They carry a charge of 2+. Because they are so massive and energetic, alpha particles can cause serious damage to material. However, they have very little penetrating power - a sheet of paper will stop them, so alpha emitters are only a problem when one is exposed to them internally.

Beta particles are basically stray, highly energetic electrons. They carry a 1- charge. They can be damaging, but also have little penetrating power - a sheet of aluminum foil will stop the average beta. However, they can be a concern in skin exposure - "beta burn" is much like serious sunburn.

Gamma rays are highly penetrating. Like light, x-rays and other electromagnetic radiation, gammas consist of little packets, or "quanta" of energy. These packets behave like waves of energy under most conditions (although they will occasionally behave like particles, just to keep physicists on their toes). Gamma radiation can be extremely dangerous, and is shielded against with dense materials like lead.

Neutrons are stray subatomic particles. Because they are massive, and carry no electric charge, they can penetrate for great distances, and do serious damage to materials & tissue. Neutrons can combine with nuclei of atoms when they collide, producing radioactive isotopes. This process is referred to as "activation". Neutrons are shielded against with materials that contain many hydrogen atoms, such as water or polythene. These provide many little nuclei for the neutron to bounce off of & slow down.

Neutrons are also essential to the most used nuclear reaction, FISSION. When neutrons from radioactive decay of massive atome collide with nuclei of other massive atoms, sometimes they will cause the nucleus to split in two or more parts. This produces (a) several smaller atoms, (b) lots of radiation, including (1) alpha, beta, and gamma (2) more neutrons [important later, and [most useful to us] (3) heat - which can be used to create steam and drive turbines to create power.

The new neutrons from each fission can then go on to produce new fissions - sort of like when billiard balls hit other billiard balls to continue the action on a pool table. The trick is to achieve "criticality", which is the point at which you are producing & using up neutrons at the same pace. A "subcritical" reaction produces too few neutrons, and eventually dies out; a "supercritical" reaction produces too many, and speeds up until it runs away [this is a _bad thing_, trust me on this].

Criticality is controlled by using control rods, which are inserted into or withdrawn from the reactor as needed. These rods absorb neutrons, allowing the number running around the reactor to be controlled.

The third type of nuclear reaction is FUSION. We would really like to be able to produce a controlled, efficient fusion reaction since it appears to be (a) safer and less polluting in the long run than fission and (b) a nearly limitless source of energy. Unfortunately, laboratory experiments have only reached a point where we can retrieve 50% or less of the energy it takes to start a reaction.

In fusion, light atoms (like Hydrogen) are slammed together with sufficient force that their nuclei combine, creating (a) a bigger atom, and (b) a lot of energy. Fusion is what powers the sun and other stars. Most scientists think that all matter in the universe started out as Hydrogen atoms (or simpler particles), and that everything that is made out of heavier elements (like the planets, our biosphere, and YOU) is the result of fusion in stars that died a long time ago, spreading their atoms into space when they exploded as novae. So we are all made of star-stuff, which certainly makes _me_ feel pretty special.

In the laboratory, fusion is initiated by zapping pellets containing Hydrogen with high energy lasers. In hydrogen bombs (unfortunately, our only "practical" application of fusion) the reaction is started by a fission bomb packed around the hydrogen. The sun's reactions are driven by its tremendous force of gravity. Solar energy applications are a way we can indirectly take advantage of the enormous potential of fusion energy *right now*.

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โˆ™ 2009-10-19 17:07:46
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Related questions

Atomic bombs are the result of what nuclear reaction?

fission and/or fusion


How do the masses of the atoms produced as a result of afusion reaction differ from the masses of the atoms that result from a nuclear fission reaction?

The products are very different.


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The result of an uncontrollable chain reaction would be a nuclear critical mass. This happens when decays to produce fast neutrons.


Where does the energy come from that is released in a fusion reaction?

Essentially what happens is that in the nuclear reaction a small proportion of the nuclear mass is annihilated and energy is released as a result, E = mc2


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Nope. (Well, the chemical reaction of the high explosives in an A- or H-bomb warhead result in high pressure that then results in a nuclear change (BOOM), but that's a side-effect, not a direct result of the chemical change.)


When an element undergoes nuclear transmutation the result is a completely different?

When an element undergoes nuclear transmutation the result is a completely different element or isotope. All transmutation occurs through decay or nuclear reaction.


Can a nuclear reaction stop by itself?

When the n/p ratio becomes equal to one, nuclei will get stability.As a result reaction will stop.


State wether a nuclear fusion is a chemical reaction or a nuclear reaction?

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Reactions that involve nuclei, called nuclear reactions, result in a tremendous amount of energy. Two types are fission and fusion.


What is a nuclear reaction What is released as a result?

The result of the nuclear reaction is an atom that is different to the original atom; the emission of alpha, beta, or gamma radiation; and usually a release of energy - though some reactions can actually absorb energy.


How does nuclear reaction differ from ordinary chemical reaction?

similarity between nuclear reaction and ordinary reaction


How do you say nuclear reaction in German?

nuclear reaction= Kernreaktion


Compare and contrast nuclear reaction and nuclear equation?

nuclear reaction and nuclear equation


What type of reaction happens inside a nuclear power plant?

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What type of a reaction happens in a nuclear power plant?

Nuclear fission.


What is a sentence for nuclear reaction?

Today class, we will be trying to produce our own nuclear reaction.The nuclear reaction provides us with nuclear energy.


How is the sun's light generated?

The sun's light is the result of a nuclear fusion reaction by which hydrogen is fused into helium.


What type of reaction supplies the most energy?

fusion nuclear reaction followed by fission nuclear reaction


Is fusion a type of chemical reaction?

If you mean nuclear fusion, no - that's a nuclear reaction, which is quite from a chemical reaction.


Which nuclear reaction is currently used to produce nuclear energy in nuclear reactors?

Nuclear fission of Uranium-235 is the predominant reaction in todays nuclear industry.


What type of nuclear reaction is used in modern day nuclear reactors?

Current nuclear reactors rely on nuclear fission as their nuclear reaction.


What describes a nuclear reaction?

nuclear


What are facts about the nuclear chain reaction?

occurs when one nuclear reaction causes on average of one or more nuclear.


What type of reaction happens in a nuclear power plant?

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Does the explosion in a nuclear bomb count as a rapid chemical reaction?

No, a nuclear bomb involves a nuclear chain-reaction.A chemical reaction involves the orbiting electrons in an atom.A nuclear reaction involves the nucleus (hence "Nuclear") of an atom.