Question: What is nuclear energy and how does it work?
Answer:Nuclear energy is derived from a natural chemical process called nuclear fission, which essentially means to brake apart. The quantity we harness is the heat energy released when a nuclei brakes apart into two smaller nuclei. Historically, the most commonly used substance for nuclear reactors is Uranium 235.
The danger in working with nuclear energy is that nuclear material has heavy atoms (meaning they have nuclei with lots of protons) that undergo fission in what is called a chain reaction. In this case the nuclear fission (division) of Uranium 235 is fueled by adding a neutron to create Uranium 236 which spontaneously (meaning happens on its own) decays, or fissions, in a process that releases usable heat as well as free neutrons. These free neutrons are then able to trigger even more of the surrounding Uranium to undergo more and more fission We call this a chain reaction because the fission event supplies more free neutrons then it consumed to undergo fission. To harness that energy we need to be able to regulate the fission reaction.
There are two things we do to regulate the rate of a nuclear fission reaction. First, thing we can use to regulate a nuclear fission reaction is the presence of fuel, the free neutrons. This is achieved by rods of a material that collects neutrons released from the Uranium 236 fission reaction. By increasing or decreasing the number of neutrons we are able to change the rate of the reaction. The second thing we can do is is remove excess energy from the reaction in the form of usable heat. This is achieved by circulating that heat away and using it, most often, to power steam turbines that generate electricity.
Other questions related to nuclear energy:
- Is fission and fusion energy renewable?
- What runs off nuclear energy?
- What is nuclear energy and how does it work?
- What are the sources of energy in nuclear fission and fusion?
- What are the processes of nuclear fission to be controlled to release energy safely?
- What are examples of nuclear energy?