Nuclear Fission Process and Nuclear Fuel BECK HOLKO, BRETT MIHALOW

Nuclear Fission

Fission is a nuclear reaction in which a neutron strikes a relatively large atomic nucleus, which then splits into two or more parts, releasing additional neutrons and energy in the form of heat (Friedland & Relyea, 2015).

How nuclear fission is self sustaining

In nuclear fission, a nucleus enters a heavy target nucleus (commonly Uranium or Plutonium), which causes the formation of a compound nucleus. This compound nucleus is forced to reach such a high state of energy that it splits off into two different fragments. This also results in the release of an abundance of energy, mainly in the form of radiation. At this point there are now also two or three more free neutrons bouncing around to cause more fissions. These fissions will continue with the release of more neutrons and the splitting of more atoms. This process is called a fission chain reaction (Nuclear, 2017, Para 1).

isotopes and the elements/atoms that are used in nuclear energy

The elements/atoms used in nuclear energy are most commonly certain isotopes of Uranium or Plutonium. This is because Uranium and Plutonium isotopes have exceptionally heavy nuclei compared to isotopes of other elements. Specifically, these isotopes are U-235 and Pu-239 (Physics, 2016, Para 3). The isotopes in use can vary sometimes depending on the type of reactor being used, but those are among most common fuel sources. Some other isotopes that may be used during this process include U-233, U-238, Pu-239, Pu-240, and Pu-241 (Physics, 2016, Para 5).


The definition of half-life is the time it takes for one-half of an original radioactive parent atom to decay. (Friedland & Relyea, 2015)

Finding the half-life of a certain isotope requires a certain amount of math by using the formula ln(nt/n0)= -kt.

In the formula,

Nt = mass of radioactive material at time interval (t)

N0 = mass of the original amount of radioactive material

k = decay constant

t = time interval (t1/2 for the half-life)

(Radioactive, 2017. Para 1,3)

For example, Plutonium, you know the stuff we put in nuclear things? If you correctly place that element into the formula above, it has a half-life of 24,110 years. (Coolmath, 2017, Para 1). That being said, if you have 60 pounds of Plutonium, in 24,110 years, you will have 30 pounds.


To begin, Uranium is known as a radioactive metal with a silver/metallic look to it. It is a cornerstone for nuclear energy because it provides use with nuclear fuel to generate electricity in nuclear power stations. (RSC, 2016, Para 3)

How do we get it?

The typical old school and more conventional way to get uranium is by mining it from deep underground shafts or from shallow pits. Then comes milling, where the uranium is crushed to very small pieces. The major type of milling would be the conventional milling process where the uranium is concentrated to the point where it produces a yellow like material called “yellowcakes”.

However, the mining method of obtaining uranium isn’t used very much anymore as there is a method which instead of mining, they inject chemicals into underground uranium deposits to dissolve or “leach” uranium from the ore. This is known as “Situ Recovery (ISR).”

There is also a known 3rd method called “Heap Leaching” that has been used to extract the uranium from ore at the conventional mills. This is no longer an option because they can no longer operate and are in the process of decommissioning. (NRC, 2017, Para 1-4)

Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear fusion is simply explained as the process in which the fusion of two “light elements”, which are elements with smaller atomic numbers, release nuclear energy. An example of nuclear fusion would be the power that fuels both the sun and the stars.

Nuclear fusion is more widely known for its usage in something like the hydrogen bomb where different isotopes fuse together and release a massive amount of energy (17.6 MeV to be exact)(Atomicarchive, 2015, Para 1).

So nuclear fusion obviously releases like a stupid amount of energy. Why don’t we use it?

The reason we cant use fusion power is because, for fusion to even happen on our planet, we need a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius which happens to actually be much hotter than the core of the sun. That being said, in order for us to even create the correct setting for fusion to occur, we would need to use a substantial amount of energy. The amount of energy we would use creating the nuclear fusion energy, is much more substantial to the energy we’d get in return. Its simply not beneficial for us. (Popularmechanics, 2013, Para 5)

Simplified Explanation of Both Fission and Fusion

Work Cited:

Radioactive Half-Life Formula. (2017). Soft Schools. Retrieved on March 21, 2017


More Ways to Use This Stuff. (2017). Cool Math. Retrieved on March 21, 2017


Uranium Recovery. (2015). United States Nuclear Regulator Committee. Retrieved on March 21, 2017


Periodic Table. (2017). Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved on March 21, 2017


Nuclear Fusion. 2015). Atomic Archive. Retrieved on March 21, 2017


Why Don’t we Have Fusion Power. (2013). Popular Mechanics. Retrieved on March 21, 2017


Friedland, A. J., Relyea, R., & Courard-Hauri, D. (2015). Environmental science for AP*. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman.

Nuclear Fission Chain Reaction. (2017). Retrieved on March 20, 2017 from:

Physics of Uranium and Nuclear Energy. (2016). Retrieved March 20, 2017 from


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