Thursday, October 20, 2011

Physics Form 5: Chapter 5 - Nuclear Chain Reaction

  • If neutrons from the fission of uranium-235 continue to split other nuclei causing further fission, a chain reaction has occurred.
  • A chain reaction refers to a process in which neutrons released in fission produce an additional fission in at least one further nucleus. This nucleus in turn produces neutrons, and the process repeats.
  • The process may be controlled (nuclear power) or uncontrolled (nuclear weapons).
  • In order for a chain reaction to take place, a minimum of one neutron from each fission must trigger further fission.
  • At the same time, the mass of fission material must exceed a certain minimal mass known as the critical mass.
  • A critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass of a fissionable material depends upon its nuclear properties (e.g. the nuclear fission cross-section), its density, its shape, its enrichment, its purity, its temperature and its surroundings.
  • If the material is less than this critical mass, too many neutrons escape without hitting any nuclei thus preventing a chain reaction from happening.
Click on the diagram below to play!

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