why do nukes go boom, while nuclear powerplants are just big boiling bois?


why do nukes go boom, while nuclear powerplants are just big boiling bois?

In: Technology

The reactor at the power plant contains materials to separate the uranium and absorb some of the zooming particles, thus slowing the reaction to a non-explosive level.

Power plants have means of slowing down the reaction to keep it within acceptable norms.

A nuclear missile does not have any such control, so when the reaction starts, it completely consumes the entirety of the fuel source in an instant, releasing all of that energy almost at once.

The difference is the concentration of the radioactive material. In the reactor the fuel pellets are “enriched” to between 3.5-5% U-235, while weapons-grade material can be close to 90%.

A reactor then carefully spaces them out to extract the heat energy at a steady pace. A nuclear weapon though will use shaped explosives to cram the material as close together as possible in order to release the energy all at once.

Kind of the same reason a grenade explodes, while a candle burns with a small steady flame. Sure, fire is involved with both, but that similarity is nowhere near as important as the differences in the way they are constructed, the materials they’re constructed with, and how they’re intended to be used.

A nuclear bomb has almost nothing in common with a powerplant’s reactor, aside from using fission reactions. Their construction is different, their appearance is different, their size is different, and their method of operation is different. Like grenades and candles, the only similarity is the reaction that makes them run, and this similarity is trivial compared to the differences. And even though the similarity can be made slightly less trivial if the candle or reactor is poorly designed or used, the damage caused is usually not caused in the same way.

Even with unsafe reactors like Chernobyl, getting the same kind and intensity of explosion as a nuclear bomb would have been impossible because, as with the grenade, the engineer’s **really** gotta want it to go boom the way it does. The reason powerplants have exploded is usually water turning to steam, or the release of flammable hydrogen gas. Both of those are completely ordinary explosions. The dust they throw into the air, though, might contain pieces of the reactor, its fuel, or its waste. That’s why the explosions at Chernobyl and Fukushima spread radiation, but they were not explosions like those from a nuclear bomb.