Nuclear Reactor vs Nuclear Bomb
Nuclear Reactor and Nuclear Bomb, both remind us immediately of the disasters in Japan. Nuclear reactors have come into news because of the explosion at some of the nuclear plants in Fukushima Power Station owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 Japan Earthquake and the Tsunami that followed. Nuclear reactors in power plants also rely on the same technology that is used in nuclear weapons such as nuclear bombs though there are many differences between the two. This article intends to clarify the difference between nuclear reactor and nuclear bomb to remove the confusion in the minds of the readers.
A nuclear reactor is a device or machine that utilizes the power of atoms to convert it into heat and electricity. It is a system that produces, contains and controls nuclear chain reactions that release huge amounts of energy. This energy is controlled and used for generation of electricity and production of isotopes of radioactive elements that are used in medical research and treatment of cancer. The chain reaction that is used in bombs for destruction is sustained and controlled in nuclear reactors for production of electricity.
These reactors also use fuel just like thermal power reactors, but here the fuel is heavy atoms instead of burning fossil fuels. Fast moving neutrons are made to strike radioactive nucleus such as Uranium 235 or Plutonium 239 causing it to split, which is known as fission. This splitting of nuclei is accompanied with huge amounts of kinetic energy apart from radiation and free neutrons. These free neutrons are made use of to strike and cause fission in other nuclei, and so on, which is why this process is called a chain reaction.
These neutrons are controlled or moderated using neutron poisons and neutron moderators. These two slow down fast moving free neutrons which get absorbed by other nuclei. Thus these controllers effectively decide the energy output of any nuclear reactor. The most important moderators are water, heavy water, and solid graphite.
Nuclear bomb is a nuclear device that has large destructive power which comes from uncontrolled nuclear reactions such as fission and fusion. The processes of fission and fusion produce incalculable amounts of energy with very small amount of matter which is usually unstable nuclei of elements such as Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239.
Nuclear weapons are categorized into fission bombs, such as atomic bombs, and fusion bombs, such as Hydrogen bombs. In fission bombs, entire energy is the result of fission reactions, while in the case of fusion bombs, nuclear fusion is the cause of a vast amount of released energy. Both types of nuclear weapons are known as weapons of mass destruction because of their ability to cause huge damage to property, environment and lives. The famous example is the destruction it caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the world war II.
Thus it is clear that both nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs use the same chain reaction to release energy in large amounts. The difference lies in the manner in which this energy is controlled and utilized. While it is uncontrolled in nuclear bombs, the reaction is controlled and moderated in nuclear reactors to use if for peaceful purposes. In nuclear reactors, the reaction is kept at a level that is barely able to sustain it.
The rate at which energy is released thus varies greatly in nuclear reactor and nuclear bomb. Every other detail of explosion being the same, the processes can be said to be identical.