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Many metals which produces nuclear energy are uranium,
thorium and plutonium.
Uranium is the most important nuclear fuel.
They exist in three different forms in nature having mass
numbers 234(99.28%), 235(0.714%), and 238(6.006%).
U235 is called primary fuels. It is naturally available upto 0.7%
in uranium ore.
U233 and PU239 are secondary fuels. Produced artificially from
Th232 and U238 respectively.
All the resources of uranium are situated in U.S.A(33%), South
Africa (20%), Australia(20%), and Canada (20%).
Low cost uranium are available in Australia and in India thorium
is available.

Properties required by Uranium fuels are

i) Undergo fission process.

ii) High tensile strength to prevent the buckling of fuel

element and to bear thermal stresses.
iii) High radiation stability to resist nuclear radiation against

iv)High conductivity to transfer the large amount of heat
released and to reduce thermal stresses.
v) Better corrosion resistance.
vi) Better machinability with higher ductility.


There are two types

i) Fissile fuels,
ii) Fertile fuels.
It undergoes fission process.
When unstable heavy nuclear is bombarded with neutrons it
splits into two fragments of approximately two mass.
A large amount of heat is released during this fission process.
basic three fissionable materials are u235, pu239 and u233.
Fissile isotopes are isotopes of an element that can be split
through fission. Certain isotopes of certain elements are fissile.
Thorium needs very fast neutron to induce fission and uranium
needs only slower neutrons. If neutron is fast then it will pass
through uranium.

Some materials are not fissionable by themselves. They can be
converted into fissionable materials. They are called as fertile
These materials absorb neutron and undergo spontaneous
change to produce fissionable materials.
U238 and Th232 are known as fertile fuels.

Nuclear fission

Nuclear fission is the process of splitting of nucleus into two

almost equal fragments accompanied by the release of heat.
It is the process of splitting of unstable heavy nucleus into
two fragments of approximately equal mass, when bombarded
with neutrons.
Two particles emitted by radioactive elements are alpha
particles and neutrons. The alpha particles is essentially a 4He
A positive nucleus and positive particle would repel each other
in the same way. The alpha particle is positive because it is
composed of two protons and two neutrons.
It will get repelled away from another positive nucleus.
The sum of the masses of the fragments will be less than the
mass of the uranium nucleus.
The fission of U235 in reactors is triggered by absorption of
low energy nuetron called slow nuetron or thermal neutron.

Splitting the


U Atom

The nuclear binding energy per fragment is more than that of heavy
nuclei. Thus, there is a considerable release of energy during the
This process is accompanied by the emission of nuetrons and
gamma rays.
The excitation energy required to split the nucleus is called critical
energy. The critical energy should be more than the neutrons binding
The sum of the masses of these fragments is less than the original
mass. The missing mass has been converted into energy according to
EINSTEINS equations.
Possible different products are
235U + 1 neutron = 2 neutrons + 92kr + 142Ba + ENERGY
235U + 1 neutron = 2 neutrons + 92Sr + 140Xe + ENERGY




One of the laws of the universe is that matter and energy cant be created nor be
destroyed. But they can be changed in form.
According to Einstein,

E= Energy,
M= mass,
C= velocity or the speed of light.


The water around the nuclear core is sent to another section of
the power plant. It heats another set of pipes filled with
another set of pipes filled with water to make steam into heat
The steam in this second set of pipes turns a turbine to
generate electricity.
The fission neutrons are of high energy and the fission cross
section of 235U for fast neutrons is small, decreasing with the
increase of neutron energy.
During moderation, some of the neutrons are invariably lost by
capture by the atoms of the moderator itself. A second source
of loss of neutrons is by resonance capture of neutrons at a
definite energy.

Power Plant Drawing

In order to maintain a sustained controlled nuclear reaction,
for every 2 or 3 neutrons released, only one must be allowed
to strike the another uranium nucleus. If this ratio is less than
one, then the reaction will die out. And if the ratio is more than
one then the reaction is uncontrolled.
Most of the reactors are controlled by means of control rods
that are made up of a strongly neutron absorbent material such
as boron or cadmium.
In addition to the need of capturing neutrons, the neutrons
have too much kinetic energy. These fast neutrons are slowed
through the use of the moderator such as heavy water and
ordinary water. Some reactors use graphite as the moderator.

Controlled Nuclear Fission


Spontaneous nuclear fission rate is the probability per second that a given atom will
fission spontaneously without any external intervention.
Plutonium239 is considered to have very high fission rate compared to the
spontaneous fission rate of uranium 235 while designing nuclear weapons.
Gamma photons from nuclear reaction are capable of fissioning a number of
heavy nuclides called photofission.
Large number of nucleons like neutrons, protons and alpha particles evaporate
from excited nucleus with small residue as a product of fission. The products will
result spallation of direct fission.

Spallation is a process in which fragments of

material (spall) are ejected from a body due to
impact or stress

Spontaneous fission

Spontaneous fission (SF) is a form of radioactive decay that is found only in very heavy
chemical elements. Because the nuclear binding energy of the elements reaches its
maximum at an atomic mass number greater than about 58 atomic mass units (u),
spontaneous breakdown into smaller nuclei and a few isolated nuclear particles becomes
possible at heavier atomic mass units (amu).

Nuclear fusion is the process of combining of fusing two lighter
nuclei into a stable and heavier nuclide.
Large amount of energy is released because mass of the product
nucleus is very less when compared to mass of the two nuclei
which are fussed.
For eg, the sun uses nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium
atoms. It gives off heat and light and other radiation.
Two types of hydrogen atoms like deuterium and tritium combine
to make a helium atom and an extra particle called a neutron.
If the lighter nuclei are fused together , they will fuse with a yield
of energy because the mass of the combination will be less than
the sum of the masses of the individual nuclei.

Proton proton chain is the predominant fusion reaction scheme

used by stars such as the sun.
i) Two pairs of protons form to make two deuterium atoms.
ii) Each deuterium atom combines with a proton to form a helium 3
iii) Two helium 3 atoms combine to form berrylium 6 which is
iv) Beryllium 6 decays into two helium 4 atoms.
These reactions produces high energy particles (protons,
electrons, neutrinos, positrons) and radiation (light, gamma rays).
There are two ways to achieve the temperature and
pressures necessary for hydrogen fusion to take place
i) Magnetic confinement.
ii) Inertial confinement

Nuclear fusion

Microwaves, electricity and neutral particle beams from
accelerators heat a stream of hydrogen gas.
This heating turns the gas into plasma. This plasma gets
squeezed by super-conducting magnets, thereby allowing
fusion to occur.
The most efficent shape for the magnetically confined plasma
is a donut shape.

Plasma toroid

At the focal point inside the target chamber there will
be a pea-sized pellet of deuterium-tritium encased in
a small, plastic cylinder.
The heat and radiation will convert the pellet into
plasma and compress it until fusion occurs. The
fusion reaction will be short-lived, about one
millionth of a second, but will yield 50 to 100 times
more energy than is needed to initiate the fusion

Inertial-confinement fusion process

How Does Inertial Confinement

Fusion (ICF) Work?

A spherical capsule filled with fuel (deuterium and tritiumisotopes

of hydrogen) is bombarded with energy, compressing and heating a
small region in the center of the fuel to values that allow the
electrostatic repulsion of the nuclei to be overcome.
The fusion reactions from this central hot spot deposit enough
energy in the rest of the fuel that fusion occurs there toothis
process is referred to as ignition. Ignition hasnt been achieved yet,
but should be at the new National Ignition
Note that during the very short period of ignition (a few
nanoseconds, or a billionth of a second) the fuel is pushed inward, so
its own inertia acts to impede its disassembly; hence the term


Multiplication factor is also called as Reproduction factor. It is denoted by k.


Number of neutrons in any particular generation

----------------------------------------------------------------------Number of neutrons in the preceeding generation.

If k<1 then it is called as subcritical reaction.

If k=1 then it is called as critical region.
If k>1 then it is called as supercritical region.

Nuclear fuel cycle