Nuclear fission

Jonny Nelson introduces an animated explanation of fission and fusion

Nuclear fission is the splitting of a large atomic nucleus into smaller nuclei.

Process of nuclear fission, from a neutron being fired into a uranium nucleus, which splits into smaller nuclei and neutrons, which then hit other uranium nuclei.

In a nuclear reactor, a neutron is absorbed into a nucleus (typically uranium-235). This causes the nucleus to become uranium-236, which is violently unstable.

The entire nucleus splits into two large fragments called 'daughter nuclei'. In addition to the 'daughter' products, two or three neutrons also explode out of the fission reaction and these can collide with other uranium nuclei to cause further fission reactions. This is known as a chain reaction.

The fast moving neutrons carry most of the energy from the reaction with them (99%) but before the neutrons can collide with fresh uranium nuclei, they need to be slowed down.

This is so that the energy can pass on to other components in the nuclear reactor, which is used to heat water to drive the turbines that turn the generators.