Video: Understanding Nuclear Fission

Parth Gharfalkar

An atomic nucleus in the core of a nuclear reactor is struck by a neutron, causing it to split into two smaller nuclei and release several neutrons. What is the name of this process?

01:45

Video Transcript

An atomic nucleus in the core of a nuclear reactor is struck by a neutron, causing it to split into two smaller nuclei and release several neutrons. What is the name of this process?

Well, let’s start by underlining the important bits of the question. So we know that we’ve got an atomic nucleus in the core of a nuclear reactor. And it’s struck by a neutron. What this results in is the splitting of that nucleus into two smaller nuclei. And it releases several neutrons as well.

What we need to do is to find out what the name of this process is. So what we’ve got then, initially, is a nucleus with a certain number of protons, here drawn in red, and neutrons, drawn in green. What then happens is that a neutron comes along and bashes into this nucleus. The nucleus of course doesn’t like this. And it ends up splitting into two smaller nuclei. And it also releases several neutrons.

Now this process of a nucleus breaking apart into smaller nuclei is known as nuclear fission. Fission basically means breaking apart. So in this case, we’re breaking apart the large nucleus into smaller nuclei.

However, the other important thing is that it’s not happening spontaneously. This initial nucleus here is not unstable until this neutron comes along and hits it. It’s only at that point that the nucleus absorbs the neutron and becomes unstable and therefore breaks apart into two smaller nuclei, plus the other neutrons.

So this process is not spontaneous. But rather, it’s induced by the neutron hitting the nucleus. Therefore, this process is known as induced nuclear fission.

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