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Nuclear Energy,energyreleasedduring the splitting or fusing

of atomic nuclei. The energy of any system, whether physical,
chemical, or nuclear, is manifested by the systems ability to
do work or to release heat or radiation. The total energy in a
system is always conserved, but it can be transferred to
another system or changed in form.



Thetwokeycharacteristics of nuclear fission important for the

practical release of nuclear energy are both evident in equation
(2). First, the energy per fission is very large. In practical units,
the fission of 1 kg (2.2 lb) of uranium-235 releases 18.7 million
kilowatt-hours as heat. Second, the fission process initiated by
the absorption of one neutron in uranium-235 releases about
2.5 neutrons, on the average, from the split nuclei. The
neutrons released in this manner quickly cause the fission of
two more atoms, thereby releasing four or more additional
neutrons and initiating a self-sustaining series of nuclear
fissions, or a chain reaction, which results in continuous release


InDecember1942atthe University of Chicago, the Italian
physicist Enrico Fermi succeeded in producing the first nuclear
chain reaction. This was done with an arrangement of natural
uranium lumps distributed within a large stack of pure
graphite, a form of carbon. In Fermi's pile, or nuclear reactor,
the graphite moderator served to slow the neutrons.


Avarietyofreactortypes, characterized by the type of fuel,

moderator, and coolant used, have been built throughout the
world for the production of electric power. In the United States,
with few exceptions, power reactors use nuclear fuel in the
form of uranium oxide isotopically enriched to about three
percent uranium-235. The moderator and coolant are highly
purified ordinary water. A reactor of this type is called a lightwater reactor (LWR).

Nuclearpowerplantssimilar to the PWR are used for the
propulsion plants of large surface naval vessels such as the
aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The basic technology of the PWR
system was first developed in the U.S. naval reactor program
directed by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Reactors for submarine
propulsion are generally physically smaller and use more
highly enriched uranium to permit a compact core. The United
States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and France all have
nuclear-powered submarines with such power plants.

Avarietyofsmallnuclear reactors have been built in many
countries for use in education and training, research, and the
production of radioactive isotopes. These reactors generally
operate at power levels near one MW, and they are more easily
started up and shut down than larger power reactors.

Thekeyfeatureofabreeder reactor is that it produces more
fuel than it consumes. It does this by promoting the absorption
of excess neutrons in a fertile material. Several breeder reactor
systems are technically feasible.


Thehazardousfuelsused in nuclear reactors present handling
problems in their use. This is particularly true of the spent
fuels, which must be stored or disposed of in some way.

Thereleaseofnuclear energy can occur at the low end of the
binding energy curve (see accompanying chart) through the
fusion of two light nuclei into a heavier one. The energy
radiated by stars, including the Sun, arises from such fusion
reactions deep in their interiors. At the enormous pressure and
at temperatures above 15 million C (27 million F) existing
there, hydrogen nuclei combine according to equation (1) and
give rise to most of the energy released by the Sun.

Aplasmahotenoughfor fusion cannot be contained by
ordinary materials. The plasma would cool very rapidly, and
the vessel walls would be destroyed by the extreme heat.
However, since the plasma consists of charged nuclei and
electrons, which move in tight spirals around the lines of force
of strong magnetic fields, the plasma can be contained in a
properly shaped magnetic field region without reacting with
material walls.

Iffusionenergydoes become practical, it offers the following
advantages: (1) a limitless source of fuel, deuterium from the
ocean; (2) no possibility of a reactor accident, as the amount of
fuel in the system is very small; and (3) waste products much
less radioactive and simpler to handle than those from fission