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The energy produced by a reactor fueled with enriched uranium results from the fission of uranium as well as from the fission of plutonium produced as the reactor operates. As discussed previously, the plutonium forms from the combination of neutrons and the uranium in the fuel. In any nuclear reactor, only about 0.1% of the mass of the fuel is converted into energy. The other 99.9% remains in the fuel rods as fission products and unused fuel. All of the fission products absorb neutrons, and after a period of several months to a few years, depending on the reactor, the fission products must be removed by changing the fuel rods. Otherwise, the concentration of these fission products would increase and absorb more neutrons until the reactor could no longer operate.

Spent fuel rods contain a variety of products, consisting of unstable nuclei ranging in atomic number from 25 to 60, some transuranium elements, including plutonium and americium, and unreacted uranium isotopes. The unstable nuclei and the transuranium isotopes give the spent fuel a dangerously high level of radioactivity. The long-lived isotopes require thousands of years to decay to a safe level. The ultimate fate of the nuclear reactor as a significant source of energy in the United States probably rests on whether or not a politically and scientifically satisfactory technique for processing and storing the components of spent fuel rods can be developed.

Nuclear fusion and fusion reactors

The process of converting very light nuclei into heavier nuclei is also accompanied by the conversion of mass into large amounts of energy, a process called fusion    . The principal source of energy in the sun is a net fusion reaction in which four hydrogen nuclei fuse and produce one helium nucleus and two positrons. This is a net reaction of a more complicated series of events:

4 1 1 H 2 4 He + 2 +1 0 e

A helium nucleus has a mass that is 0.7% less than that of four hydrogen nuclei; this lost mass is converted into energy during the fusion. This reaction produces about 3.6 × 10 11 kJ of energy per mole of 2 4 He produced. This is somewhat larger than the energy produced by the nuclear fission of one mole of U-235 (1.8 × 10 10 kJ), and over 3 million times larger than the energy produced by the (chemical) combustion of one mole of octane (5471 kJ).

It has been determined that the nuclei of the heavy isotopes of hydrogen, a deuteron, 1 2 H and a triton, 1 3 H , undergo fusion at extremely high temperatures (thermonuclear fusion). They form a helium nucleus and a neutron:

1 2 H + 1 3 H 2 4 He + 2 0 1 n

This change proceeds with a mass loss of 0.0188 amu, corresponding to the release of 1.69 × 10 9 kilojoules per mole of 2 4 He formed. The very high temperature is necessary to give the nuclei enough kinetic energy to overcome the very strong repulsive forces resulting from the positive charges on their nuclei so they can collide.

Useful fusion reactions require very high temperatures for their initiation—about 15,000,000 K or more. At these temperatures, all molecules dissociate into atoms, and the atoms ionize, forming plasma. These conditions occur in an extremely large number of locations throughout the universe—stars are powered by fusion. Humans have already figured out how to create temperatures high enough to achieve fusion on a large scale in thermonuclear weapons. A thermonuclear weapon such as a hydrogen bomb contains a nuclear fission bomb that, when exploded, gives off enough energy to produce the extremely high temperatures necessary for fusion to occur.

Questions & Answers

What is stoichometry
ngwuebo Reply
what is atom
yinka Reply
An indivisible part of an element
the smallest particle of an element which is indivisible is called an atom
An atom is the smallest indivisible particle of an element that can take part in chemical reaction
is carbonates soluble
Ebuka Reply
what is the difference between light and electricity
Joshua Reply
What is atom? atom can be defined as the smallest particles
what is the difference between Anode and nodes?
What's the net equations for the three steps of dissociation of phosphoric acid?
Lisa Reply
what is chemistry
Prince Reply
the study of matter
what did the first law of thermodynamics say
Starr Reply
energy can neither be created or distroyed it can only be transferred or converted from one form to another
Graham's law of Diffusion
Ayo Reply
what is melting vaporization
Anieke Reply
melting and boiling point explain in term of molecular motion and Brownian movement
Scientific notation for 150.9433962
Steve Reply
what is aromaticity
Usman Reply
aromaticity is a conjugated pi system specific to organic rings like benzene, which have an odd number of electron pairs within the system that allows for exceptional molecular stability
what is caustic soda
Ogbonna Reply
sodium hydroxide (NaOH)
what is distilled water
is simply means a condensed water vapour
advantage and disadvantage of water to human and industry
Abdulrahman Reply
a hydrocarbon contains 7.7 percent by mass of hydrogen and 92.3 percent by mass of carbon
Timothy Reply
how many types of covalent r there
JArim Reply
how many covalent bond r there
they are three 3
TYPES OF COVALENT BOND-POLAR BOND-NON POLAR BOND-DOUBLE BOND-TRIPPLE BOND. There are three types of covalent bond depending upon the number of shared electron pairs. A covalent bond formed by the mutual sharing of one electron pair between two atoms is called a "Single Covalent bond.

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Source:  OpenStax, Chemistry. OpenStax CNX. May 20, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11760/1.9
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