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Lesson 7

Nuclear Fission
Mr. Lindell

12th Grade Physics


Unit 5: Nuclear Reactions and Radioactive Decay
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Objectives
• Key terms with nuclear fission
Be Able To Define • Difference between types of nuclear reactions

• Elements that are fissile and their characteristics


1.Understand • Fission process and reaction mechanism
• The difference between a controlled and uncontrolled chain reaction

• Previous concepts to explain and to define fission


Apply • Uses for fission reactions
• Form an opinion on nuclear fission and pro’s/cons of its use

•Standards • HS-PS1-8. Develop models to illustrate the changes in the composition of the nucleus of the
atom and the energy released during the processes of fission, fusion, and radioactive decay.
• RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual

Addressed form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g.,
in an equation) into words. (HS-PS1-1)

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A question for you….

Is nuclear power the future of our life on


Earth or the way we’ll end life on Earth?

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Overview
 Relevant background content Remember our ground rules:

 Intro to fission
 Definition and terms Follow the discussion

 Fission reaction and reaction


Take notes
mechanism
 Mass balance Participate and share observations
 Chain reaction
Don’t wrestle with issues – ask!
 Uses of nuclear fission
 Culminating activity

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Review of past concepts
• Recall the Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter
• What is it?
 Matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed

• Atomic structure – what is at the center of the atom?


• Nucleus
Neutrons
Protons

• Of the 4 types of forces, two were nuclear forces


Weak: between protons and electrons
Strong: bind particles in the nucleus (binding energy)
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Matter and Energy
• How are matter and energy related?

By the square of the speed of light


Albert Einstein

Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared


Conversion of mass to energy / energy to mass

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Introduction: what is fission?
• Splitting an atomic nucleus into fissionable
fragments
• Fissionable fragments are smaller atomic
nuclei and neutrons
• Energy is given off by this process

Reaction video of fission

From: The Harnessed Atom

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Introduction: what is fission?
• Fissile nuclei are heavy elements with more neutrons than protons
• When struck by neutrons, become unstable and initiate the fission process

• Fission process: strong nuclear force (binding energy) is overcome by


an incoming particle (neutron)
• When the strong nuclear force is disrupted, electrostatic repulsion splits the
nuclei into two fissile fragments

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Fissile materials – most common
• Uranium 235
• Naturally occurring
Uranium Uranium
Protons_____ Protons 92
Neutrons____ Neutrons 146

• Plutonium-244 is the most readily available form of plutonium, but


Pu239 isotope is fissile
• Pu-239 is not naturally occurring; made by enriching U-235
Plutonium Plutonium
Protons_____ Protons 94
Neutrons____ Neutrons 150

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Fission reaction – U235
Steps
1. Neutron + U235 Step 1 Step 2 Step 3

2. U236
3. Kr89 + Ba144 + 3 neutrons
+ gamma radiation + energy

Fission reaction steps of U235 for form Kr89 and Ba144


YouTube video from Socratic.org
On U235 fission reactions (watch to 3:45 only)

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Now you try
• Write in the reaction equation for U235

• ___U + ___ n
235 1 236
92 0 ___U
92

Is this balanced?
• ___U
236 89 144 1
92 ___ Kr + ___Ba + 3 ___n + energy
36 56 0
What is missing and how do you know?

3 neutrons to balance the reaction

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Fission – energy release
• Energy comes from breaking the strong nuclear forces and mass lost
through the fission process

• One U235 atom energy emitted = 202.5 MeV = 3.24E-11 J

• For 1 kg of U235 = 83.14 TJ/kg 2.5 million times more


than the energy released
from burning 1 kg coal!

• Progress check: What are some of the characteristics of an element


that can be used in nuclear fission?

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Chain reaction
• Needed an initiator to start. How does it continue?

• Recall the 3 neutrons released from the reaction

• They hit other U235 nucleus

Chain reaction using ping pong balls and mousetraps


Dalton Nuclear Institute From: The Harnessed Atom

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Uncontrolled chain reaction
• Three types of reactions driven by mass:
• Subcritical mass: not sustainable reaction rate____
• Critical mass: self-sustaining reaction rate____
• Supercritical mass: increasing reaction rate____

• Supercritical mass can get to uncontrolled levels

• Remember each reaction releases 3 neutrons!


Chain reaction time, Dalton Nuclear Institute

• Reaction rates can escalate logarithmically – really fast.

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Controlled chain reaction
• What can control a chain reaction?

• Absorbing free neutrons


• Slowing fast neutrons (not enough
energy to initiate reaction)

• Boron absorbs neutrons


• Water slows neutrons
• Hydrogen nucleus similar size as neutron
Water moderating a chain reaction
http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/NucEne/moder.html

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Another example - Plutonium
• Pu239 fission reaction

• Initiated with high speed neutron

• Fissile fragments are xenon and zirconium and 3 neutrons

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Uranium versus plutonium Now you try
• Reaction equations and some key facts:
U235 Pu239

Energy release: 200 MeV Energy release: 207 MeV

Half life: 704 million years Half life: 24,110 years

Naturally available Needs to be created

What material do you think is more widely used and why?


Data and equations from https://www.nuclear-power.net/nuclear-power-plant/nuclear-fuel/

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Uses of nuclear fission – power plant
• One of the major uses of fission is in electricity generation
• France is #1 at 72%, USA at #2 at 20%

% electricity generated by various fuels in the USA 2016


US Energy Information Association % electricity generated by various fuels in France 2016
Jancovici.com

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Source of uranium
• USA only domestically produces a small amount of the uranium used
annually

• Most comes from Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan

• Uranium is mined and refined

Open pit uranium mine in Africa


geographical.co.uk

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Processing of uranium
1.Uranium ore is mined

Ore is crushed then ground

Converted into uranium fluoride gas

Uranium is extracted

Uranium is concentrated

Oxygenated to form fuel rods

Sent to power plants for use


Uranium processing process
From Energy Resources of Australia

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Fission in a power plant
• Fission reaction provides the
heat to create steam which
turns the turbines to create
electricity

• Refueled about every 6 years

• Waste products are heat, steam, Nuclear power plant schematic


http://www.greenandpractical.com/nuclear.html
and nuclear waste

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Nuclear power plant

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Controlling the reaction
• Control rods are used to control the rate of
reaction in the reactor
• Rods are raised or lowered to control the reaction
• Water is also used to moderate the reactions
• Rods made of boron or cadmium isotopes encased
in metal to absorb neutrons.

Control Rod mechanism

Control Rod schematic


Lowered on left
Raised on right

Images from Control Rods in Nuclear Reactors, James Grayson

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Containment
• The containment building is
designed to capture any
nuclear radiation leaks or
reactor failures
• Outer containment vessel
• Multiple reactor
containment systems
• Note the thickness and other
materials noted like lead

Typical Containment Building


Nuclear Power Information, Duke Energy

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Energy release in fission vs coal
• High energy per kg of fuel

• Energy per kg of fuel


• Coal: 3.3x 107 Joules/kg
• Fission: 2.1x1012 Joules/kg

Energy from different power generation systems


Georgia Power and Light

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Now You Try
• What does it take to initiate a nuclear reaction? And for what
scenarios would you want the reaction to be sub-critical mass, critical
mass, or supercritical mass?

• Based on what you learned today, do you see a future for more, less
or about the same for nuclear power in the USA? Why?

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