Ages 12-13: Educational Resources
Atoms are mostly empty space, but they are also full of a special type of energy that we call "nuclear energy". We can use this energy to make electricity.
How do we get enough nuclear energy for electricity? By breaking the centre of the atoms!
Did you know? The centre of an atom is called the nucleus, which is where the word “nuclear” comes from. Scientists discovered that the nucleus can be split apart through a process called fission.
We split atoms in a nuclear reactor by sending free neutrons that will hit the nucleus of uranium atoms and break them. This creates heat that is used to make electricity. It also produces radiation. Pieces of the broken atoms hit neighbouring atoms and continue to create more radiation and heat.
Fusion is the opposite of fission.
Fusion means joining together – in this case, the joining of deuterium and tritium atoms to release a huge amount of energy.
Keeping a fusion reaction going is very hard – research scientists and engineers are working on ways to keep a fusion reaction going on a large scale. Until they do, fission is the only way to reliably produce electricity from nuclear energy.
Did you know? The sun’s heat comes from fusion reactions.