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NUCLEAR FUSION

Nuclear fusion is the process in which


two or more atomic nuclei join together
to form a single heavier nucleus. This is
usually accompanied by the release or
absorption of large quantities of energy.
Large scale thermonuclear fusion
processes, involving many nuclei fusing
at once, must occur in matter at very
high densities and temperatures. The
fusion of two nuclei with lower masses
than iron along with nickel has the largest binding energy per nucleon.

In the simplest case of hydrogen fusion, two protons have to be brought close enough for the
weak nuclear force to convert either of the identical protons into a neutron forming the hydrogen
isotope deuterium. In more complex cases of heavy ion fusion involving two or more nucleons,
the reaction mechanism is different, but the same result occurs - one of combining smaller nuclei
into larger nuclei.

Nuclear fusion occurs naturally in all active stars. Synthetic fusion as a result of human actions
has also been achieved, although this has not yet been completely controlled as a source of
nuclear power. In the laboratory, successful nuclear physics experiments have been carried out
that involves the fusion of many different varieties of nuclei, but the energy output has been
negligible in these studies. In fact, the amount of energy put into the process has always
exceeded the energy output.

Building upon the nuclear transmutation experiments by Ernest Rutherford, carried out several
years earlier, the fusion of the light nuclei was first accomplished by Mark Oliphant in 1932.
Then, the steps of the main cycle of nuclear fusion in stars were first worked out by Hans Bethe.
NUCLEAR FISSION

The sum of the masses of these


fragments is less than the original
mass. This 'missing' mass has been
converted into energy according to
Einstein's equation. Fission can occur
when a nucleus of a heavy atom
captures a neutron, or it can happen
spontaneously. Nuclear fission is a
nuclear reaction in which the nucleus
of an atom splits into smaller parts (lighter nuclei), often producing free neutrons and photons in
the form of gamma rays, as well. Fission of heavy elements is an exothermic reaction which can
release large amounts of energy both as electromagnetic radiation and as kinetic energy of the
fragments heating the bulk material where fission takes place. For fission to produce energy, the
total binding energy of the resulting elements has to be lower than that of the starting element.
Fission is a form of nuclear transmutation because the resulting fragments are not the same
element as the original atom.

Nuclear fission produces energy for nuclear power and to drive the explosion of nuclear
weapons. Both uses are made possible because certain substances called nuclear fuels undergo
fission when struck by free neutrons and in turn generate neutrons when they break apart. This
makes possible a self-sustaining chain reaction that releases energy at a controlled rate in a
nuclear reactor. The amount of free energy contained in nuclear fuel is millions of times the
amount of free energy contained in a similar mass of chemical fuel such as gasoline, making
nuclear fission a very tempting source of energy. The products of nuclear fission, however, are
on average far more radioactive than the heavy elements which are normally fission as fuel, and
remain so for significant amounts of time, giving rise to a nuclear waste problem.
NUCLEAR REACTOR

A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate, and control, a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The most
common use of nuclear reactors is for the generation of electrical power and for the power in
some ships. This is usually accomplished by methods that involve using heat from the nuclear
reaction to power steam turbines.
An assembly in which a nuclear fission chain
reaction is maintained and controlled for the
production of nuclear energy, radioactive
isotopes, or artificial elements. The nuclear
fuel used in a reactor consists of fissile
material (e.g. uranium-235 which undergoes
fission as a consequence of which two
nuclides of approximately equal mass are
produced together with between two or three
neutrons and a considerable quantity of
energy. These neutrons cause further fissions
so that a chain reaction develops. In order that Principle on which the nuclear reactor works
the reaction should not get out of control, its European Nuclear Society
progress is regulated by neutron absorbers in
control rods, only sufficient free neutrons being allowed to exits in the reactor to maintain the
reaction at a constant level. The fissile material is usually mixed with a moderator which slows
down, the fast neutrons emitted during fission, so that they are more likely to cause further
fissions of the fissile material than they are to be captured by the uranium-238. In a
heterogeneous reactor the fuel and the moderator are separated in a geometric pattern called a
lattice. In the homogenous reactors, the fuel and moderators are mixed to present uniform
medium to the neutrons.
A HYDROGEN BOMB

It is the most destructive weapon that


mankind has ever invented. It is the
most powerful type of nuclear bomb,
as much as 25,000 times the yield of
the nuclear bombs dropped on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Unlike conventional atom bombs,
which release energy by fission
heavy atomic nuclei like uranium and
plutonium, a hydrogen bomb releases
energy by fusing together light nuclei
like tritium or deuterium, converting even more matter into energy.

Hydrogen bomb or H-bomb derives a large portion of its energy from the nuclear fusion of
hydrogen isotopes. In an atomic bomb, uranium or plutonium is split into lighter elements that
together weigh less than the original atoms, the remainder of the mass appearing as energy.
Unlike this fission bomb, the hydrogen bomb functions by the fusion, or joining together, of
lighter elements into heavier elements. The end product again weighs less than its components,
the difference once more appearing as energy. Because extremely high temperatures are required
in order to initiate fusion reactions, the hydrogen bomb is also known as a thermonuclear bomb.

Like other types of nuclear explosion, the explosion of a hydrogen bomb creates an extremely
hot zone near its center. In this zone, because of the high temperature, nearly all of the matter
present is vaporized to form a gas at extremely high pressure. A sudden overpressure, i.e., a
pressure far in excess of atmospheric pressure, propagates away from the center of the explosion
as a shock wave, decreasing in strength as it travels. It is this wave, containing most of the
energy released that is responsible for the major part of the destructive mechanical effects of a
nuclear explosion. The details of shock wave propagation and its effects vary depending on
whether the burst is in the air, underwater, or underground.
THE ATOM BOMB

Just before the First World War


two German scientists, James
Franck and Gustav Hertz carried
out experiments where they
bombarded mercury atoms with
electrons and traced the energy
changes that resulted from the
collisions. Their experiments
helped to substantiate they theory
put forward by Nils Bohr that an
atom can absorb internal energy
only in precise and definite amounts. In 1921 two Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, discovered
nuclear isomers. Over the next few years they devoted their time to researching the application of
radioactive methods to chemical problems. In the 1930s they became interested in the research
being carried out by Enrico Fermi and Emilio Segre at the University of Rome. This included
experiments where elements such as uranium were bombarded with neutrons. By 1935 the two
men had discovered slow neutrons, which have properties important to the operation of nuclear
reactors.

Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner were now joined by Fritz Strassmann and discovered that uranium
nuclei split when bombarded with neutrons. In 1938 Meitner, like other Jews in Nazi Germany,
was dismissed from her university post. She moved to Sweden and later that year she wrote a
paper on nuclear fission with her nephew, Otto Frisch, where they argued that by splitting the
atom it was possible to use a few pounds of uranium to create the explosive and destructive
power of many thousands of pounds of dynamite.

In January, 1939 a Physics Conference took place in Washington in the United States. A great
deal of discussion concerned the possibility of producing an atomic bomb. Some scientists
argued that the technical problems involved in producing such a bomb were too difficult to
overcome, but the one thing they were agreed upon was that if such a weapon was developed, it
would give the country that possessed it the power to blackmail the rest of the world. Several
scientists at the conference took the view that it was vitally important that all information on
atomic power should be readily available to all nations to stop this happening.

On 2nd August, 1939, three Jewish scientists who had fled to the United States from Europe,
Albert Einstein, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, wrote a joint letter to President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, about the developments that had been taking place in nuclear physics. They warned
Roosevelt that scientists in Germany were working on the possibility of using uranium to
produce nuclear weapons. Roosevelt responded by setting up a scientific advisory committee to
investigate the matter. He also had talks with the British government about ways of sabotaging
the German efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

The uranium bomb dropped on Hiroshima

On 6th August 1945, a B29 bomber dropped an


atom bomb on Hiroshima. It has been estimated
that over the years around 200,000 people have
died as a result of this bomb being dropped.
Japan did not surrender immediately and a
second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki three days later. On 10th August the Japanese
surrendered. The Second World War was over.