Nuclear fuel consists of
two types of uranium, U-238 and U-235. Most of the uranium in nuclear fuel is
U-238, but U-235 splits—or fissions—easily. In U-235 atoms, the nucleus, which
is composed of protons and neutrons, is unstable. As the nuclei break up, they
When the neutrons hit
other uranium atoms, those atoms also split, releasing neutrons of their own,
along with heat. These neutrons strike other atoms, splitting them. One fission
triggers others, which triggers still more until there is a chain reaction.
When that happens, fission becomes self-sustaining.
Rods inserted among the
tubes holding the uranium fuel control the nuclear reaction. Control rods,
inserted or withdrawn to varying degrees, slow or accelerate the reaction.
Water separates fuel tubes
in the reactor. The heat produced by fission turns this water into steam. The
steam drives a turbine, which spins a generator to create electricity.