The Development of Fission and the Nuclear Reactor
Nuclear transmutations had began in 1919 with an experiment by Earnest Rutherford. He demonstrated that nitrogen, when bombarded with alpha particles, can be turned into oxygen. During the 1920’s experiments continued, but collecting radioactive sources with a high enough intensity became hard. In 1931 the invention of the cyclotron and the Van de Graaff accelerator made a variety of other particles available, and strengthened nuclear studies. In 1934 Frederick Joliot discovered artificial radioactivity. The development of nuclear fission, the splitting of an elements heavy nucleus, like a uranium atom to form two lighter "fission fragments" as well as less massive particles as the neutrons, really began with the research of Enrico Fermi and his associates at the University of Rome, in Italy.
In 1934 it was known that atoms consisted of a nucleus, containing protons and neutrons, surrounded by electrons. It was also known that certain nuclei were radioactive. Radioactive nuclei emit alpha particles, which are pieces of nuclear matter containing two protons and two neutrons. After the alpha particle leaves the nucleus radium is changed into radon. If the radon gas is combined with several grams of beryllium then neutrons are found to be emitted. When the alpha particle enters a beryllium nucleus it provides enough kinetic energy for a neutron to burst out, leaving behind a carbon nucleus in the process. It was later determined that this energy could be harnessed by a nuclear reactor and used for power.
A nuclear reactor causes a interaction between two or more nuclei, nuclear particles, or radiation, causing fission. Nuclear reactors are used to produce energy caused by fission. A nuclear power plant relies on fission to make its energy. In the nuclear reactor the splitting of atoms is induced by the interaction of a neutron with a fissionable nucleus. The energy released from the fission reactions provide heat, part of which is converted into electricity. This heat is removed from the nuclear fuel by water, which is pumped past rods containing the nuclear activity. Nuclear reactors provide huge amounts of energy from each fission event that occurs in the nuclear reactors core. On average, fission will release about 200 million electron volts of energy, where as a typical chemical reaction will release about one electron volt. The complete fission of one pound of uranium would release roughly the same amount of energy as 6000 barrels of oil. The reactor cooling fluid serves a duel purpose. Its most important function is to remove the heat from the core that results from the nuclear reactions. The heat is then transferred into an outside core, typically for the production of electricity. The heated fluid may be used directly or may heat a secondary fluid, normally water, which drives the turbine.
The neutrons liberated by fission travel very...