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ZingPath: Atomic Structure

Nuclear Energy: Fission

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Lesson Focus

Nuclear Energy: Fission

Physical Science

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You will interactively explore the nuclear fission process and learn how a reactor works.

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Now You Know

After completing this tutorial, you will be able to complete the following:

  • Explain that nuclear fission occurs when a neutron hits a massive atom, such as Uranium 235, and the atom splits.
  • Explain that nuclear fission produces energy, two new atoms, gamma radiation and neutrons.
  • Explain that control rods, when lowered into a nuclear reactor slow down a reaction and when pulled up speed up the reaction.

Everything You'll Have Covered

Nuclear power plants are used to produce energy for people around the world. Some reactors use Uranium-235 because it is a fissionable atom, but it is also rare to find it naturally. (The more common form is Uranium-238, which does not generally undergo fission.) When a neutron hits this atom, the atomic forces inside the nucleus can no longer hold it together, and so it splits. When it fissions, it can split into barium and krypton, and also emits energy, gamma radiation, and several neutrons. If these neutrons collide with more Uranium-235, the fission process continues.

Inside a nuclear reactor, control rods can be used to moderate the rate of a fission reaction. When they are lowered into a container of Uranium-235, the control rods absorb the emitted neutrons, reducing the number of reactions taking place. When the number of reactions is reduced, less energy is produced.

Countries use nuclear fission to create enormous amounts of energy, which is used to heat water into steam. This steam rotates a turbine inside a generator, and this energy is converted into electrical energy. Although it does generate radioactive waste, it does not emit toxic or greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

Tutorial Details

Approximate Time 30 Minutes
Pre-requisite Concepts Students should be familiar with energy and atomic structure.
Course Physical Science
Type of Tutorial Concept Development
Key Vocabulary atom, control rods, energy