For an explanation, see the main splats page
SPLATS about nuclear energy
The principles of nuclear energy
- Some nuclei are unstable as a result of an imbalance in the numbers of neutrons and protons in the nucleus. The radioactive decays end when stability is reached
- Radioactivity can be natural or artificial: one important use of nuclear reactors is in making radioisotopes which have important medical applications.
- Radioactive nuclei all have a half-life, the time in which half the nuclei in a sample decay. The half-life of any unstable nucleus can be determined.
- More unstable nuclei have shorter half-lives: the half-life depends on the probability that a given nucleus will undergo fission within a given time.
- Nuclear fusion involves two light nuclei being combined into a heavier nucleus with less mass than the original nuclei and releasing energy as a result.
- Nuclear fission involves a heavy nucleus forming two nuclei lighter (in total) than the original nucleus and releasing energy equivalent to the lost mass.
- As a general rule, the nuclei in the centre of the periodic table have less energy available because energy was released during their formation.
- The mass deficiency at the end of a nuclear reaction is linked to the energy released in accordance with the much-misquoted "e equals mc squared".
- A critical mass is an amount of fissile material formed so that each fission generates products (usually neutrons) that trigger, on average, one more fission.
- The amount of fissile material needed to make a critical mass is least when the fissile material is in the shape of a sphere, as fewer neutrons escape.
- A nuclear chain reaction requires a critical mass of fissile material in a small space, and control systems which need to be highly reliable, except in a bomb.
- Beta particles are energetic electrons ejected from the nucleus during nuclear decay, and they indicate that a neutron has become a proton in the nucleus.
- Alpha particles are the most massive form of radiation. Each alpha particle is made up of two neutrons and two protons, ejected from a fissioning nucleus.
- Radioactivity involves the release of energy, and the release comes in three forms, originally simply called alpha, beta and gamma radiation.
- Gamma radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation, rather like X-rays, which is emitted as a way of losing energy during some forms of nuclear decay.
- Nuclear energy produces no greenhouse emissions: the damage from continuing greenhouse emissions can be predicted, unlike the damage from nuclear reactors.
- The energetic radiation coming from radioactive material can be harmful to living cells, depending on the radiation produced, and how close the source gets.
- Most nuclear accidents have been caused by poor training and careless operation of facilities and operations by people who feel over-confident with their tasks.
- Nuclear waste can be classified as high, medium or low-grade waste, depending on its half-life, the products of decay and how much of it there is.
- Some nuclear waste will need to be stored safely for many thousands of years, while the radioactive products break down. It might harm our descendants, one day.
- Burning fossil fuels to obtain the energy we all demand is now considered to cause global warming, and that will, without a doubt, harm our descendants, soon.
- Some spent nuclear fuel rods can be recycled to produce new fuel rods. The recycling processes need to be managed and supervised with very great care.
- Nuclear weapons bring a variety of technical problems in maintenance and storage as the fissile materials in them slowly decay, and need to be refurbished.
- Burning one gram of hydrogen gas in the normal way with oxygen provides the energy that is needed to light a 100 watt bulb for about 40 minutes only.
- If the same gram of hydrogen could be converted completely to energy by some form of nuclear reaction, it would power a 100 watt bulb for 56,000 years.
- In 1939, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman bombarded uranium salts with thermal neutrons and found barium among the reaction products, indicating fission.
- In 1939, Rudolf Peierls and Otto Frisch worked out the critical mass and theory of the uranium-235 fission bomb, with a critical mass of about 10 kilograms.
- In 1976, Shlyakhter used samarium ratios from a 2 billion-year-old natural fission reactor in Gabon to show the laws of physics have not changed in that time.
- In 1939, Teller, Szilard and Einstein, sent a warning letter to President Roosevelt about the possibilities of the atomic bomb, starting the Manhattan Project.
- In 1932, Leo Szilard realized that nuclear chain reactions may be possible, and by 1934, he had filed a patent on the principles, and gave it to the War Office.
- Early on, Frederick Soddy calculated that the energy liberated in the complete change of 28 grams of radium would be equal to that from burning 10 tons of coal.
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