Where Does Nuclear Energy Come From?

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Nuclear energy comes from a chain reaction involving uranium, plutonium and fissile where neutrons collide and produce millions of small reactions that combine in less than a second. Discover the origin of nuclear energy with interesting information from a math and science teacher in this free video on science.

Part of the Video Series: Science & Nature Facts
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Steve Jones and I'm going to tell you where nuclear energy comes from. Now, first of all nuclear energy is a fossil fuel. That is, you find it in the ground, you don't find the energy, you find uranium. Uranium can be dug out, natural uranium is about 99.3% u238 at about .7% u235. This is a problem because this (.7% u235) is the uranium we want, this we don't, or not at the moment anyway. From this (99.3% u238) we can make plutonium and therefore that can then be used in reactives, but this is the material we want, it is said to be fissile, that is it produces a chain reaction and it is the chain reaction which produces energy. So here we have the chain reaction, so whereabout in this process does it occur? A chain reaction is where you have a particular atom, u235, and when a neutron hits it, and neutrons are around all the time, but when a neutron hits it, it actually undergoes a reaction where the u235 actually splits into two bits, two big chunks. And this is product one and product two, and at the same time it spits out more neutrons, two or three of them. Now, as you can imagine, if this keeps happening, if this next one also produces reactions then you are going to get a lot of reactions. And since this takes this about this whole time is something like ten to the minus nine seconds, which is to you and me one thousand millionth of a second, then you'll get a thousand million of these reactions in a second. Each reaction produces a huge amount of energy and you get a huge bang, well you should do. But unfortunately most of these neutrons actually disappear and don't produce reactions, luckily. And in nature, of course, these reactions occur, but so very few and they don't turn into this type of reaction. Because most of these would not be u235, they'd be u238, which absorbs a neutron, no problem. Alright, so the energy, the actual nuclear energy, comes from u235 and a reaction just of u235. So, what do we have to do? The answer is we have to remove the u238 from the natural uranium. This is done by reacting it with fluorine to produce uranium hexafluoride and then we use a process of diffusion to extract the natural u235. This is a complex process, an expensive process, a difficult process, and therefore this is a process that governments do, not individuals. So that, basically, is where nuclear energy comes from.


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