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Nuclear energy

The atomic structure of uraniumThe atomic structure of uranium Nuclear energy is the energy contained by an atom, due to the strong force that holds together the protons and neutrons in its nucleus. Nuclear energy is released naturally inside the Sun. It can also be released by technological means by one of two ways: nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. They are both forms of nuclear reaction. Nuclear power can so far be produced from harnessing the energy obtained from atoms of only certain elements. These are uranium and plutonium (fission); deuterium and tritium (fusion).

Nuclear fissionNuclear fission

Nuclear fission

Matter can be converted into energy and energy can be changed into matter. This conversion is used in nuclear power stations. A nuclear particle called a neutron smashes into the nucleus of a uranium atom (1). The nucleus breaks into two parts (2). This releases large amounts of heat and other energy and also two more fast-moving neutrons (3). These smash into more uranium nuclei and so on in what is called a chain reaction (4). Splitting of nuclei is known as nuclear fission. During the process bits of matter cease to exist and become vast quantities of energy instead.

At the Sun's core, in temperatures of about 15 million°C, hydrogen atoms fuse together to make helium.

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