why does nuclear energy cause radiation?


If I understand correctly, water is heated up in a reactor, goes through a turbine and in turn creates energy. How exactly does it cause radiation?

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Radiation comes from the radioactive material that release energy to heat up the water. Some of the energy released is ionizing radiation which is harmful to humans.

The radiation is a byproduct of the nuclear fission that releases the heat, which produces the steam to power the turbine etc.

It’s like a campfire: you burn a pile of wood to boil a pot of water, a byproduct of that burning wood is embers that fly off. That’s the radiation.

The way we heat that water is through nuclear decay. We take an partially unstable substance (ie radioactive material) this substance is always putting off energy as bit by bit the large unstable atoms break apart. If we take enough of that material and put it close together the energy released from one atom will break apart another. This self sustaining reaction produces a lot of heat that we can use to turn water into steam.

Now some of the energy being released is extremely high frequency. This energy slams into every it touches with much more energy than you’d imagine from radiant heat. It’s so much energy that it knocks apart weak molecules. This is what we call radiation.

Radiation can actually mean many things:

– electromagnetic radiation: it’s just like light, but int the case of nuclear energy, it’s much more powerful and can mess up DNA and other stuff in the body. It’s created when the atom splits and create a lot of energy, in large part into this kind of radiation. It’s kind of hard to stop (can go through wall and stuff)

– alpha and beta radiation: they are bits of the atom (respectively helium nucleus and electron) that are shot out of the atom when it splits, and can also break DNA and stuff inside you. But it’s much easier to stop (alpha can be stop by your skin, beta by aluminum foil). Not much of a problem unless very powerful or you ingested something radioactive.

– neutron radiation: also bits that are shot out of the atom, but instead of messing with you directly, it can turn other materials into radiative materials, including all the stuff the reactor is made of. It’s also how the reaction keeps going.

Also, reactor (and bombs) can release radioactive materials (materials that emit any radiation above). They’re actually what’s most dangerous, since radiation is not a problem if you’re not rear the reactor (like, right in the building). But if radioactive material escape, they can get everywhere, including in the food chain or water. If you ingest them, you’ll get irradiated directly from the inside, especially if your body keeps the material instead of flushing it (via n°1 or n°2) like with iode for exemple.

Most of machines to make electricity are the same in that they heat water to spin a turbine. The usual difference is how you heat the water.

Nuclear energy does this by fission. An extremely simplifies versjon of what goes on is you put radioactive materials next to each other and they interact by particles hitting each other. This happens so much that it causes plenty of heat. Imagine clapping your hands over and over Your hands gets hot the more you do this. The heat boils the water and the rest you know.

Now let’s change this slightly and instead of clapping it’s two cars crashing. This would cause bits to fly off of the cars. Those bits can be thought of as the parts of the atoms hitting each other can be thought of as the radiation. And just like the radiation, if you stand too close, then the bits can become harmful to you.

Hope that makes sense.