Criticality

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Criticality refers to the state of a nuclear system when the nuclear chain reaction is self-sustaining. This can be achieved when the system is in a state where each fission event causes, on average, exactly one more fission event. The concept of criticality is fundamental to the operation of nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs.

Overview[edit | edit source]

In a nuclear reactor, the state of criticality is desired as it allows for a controlled release of energy. This energy can then be harnessed to produce electricity. In a nuclear bomb, the state of criticality is achieved very rapidly, leading to an uncontrolled release of energy in the form of an explosion.

Criticality in Nuclear Reactors[edit | edit source]

In a nuclear reactor, the state of criticality is maintained by controlling the number of neutrons in the system. This is achieved by adjusting the position of control rods, which absorb neutrons and thus reduce the number of neutrons available to cause further fissions.

Criticality in Nuclear Bombs[edit | edit source]

In a nuclear bomb, the state of criticality is achieved by bringing together sufficient quantities of fissile material (such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239) in a very short amount of time. This is typically achieved by using conventional explosives to compress the fissile material into a smaller volume, thus increasing its density and making it more likely for a neutron to cause a fission event.

Safety Considerations[edit | edit source]

Maintaining a state of criticality in a controlled manner is crucial for the safe operation of nuclear reactors. If a reactor becomes supercritical, it can lead to a rapid increase in power output, potentially resulting in a meltdown. Similarly, if a reactor becomes subcritical, it can lead to a decrease in power output, potentially resulting in the reactor shutting down.

See Also[edit | edit source]

Criticality Resources
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