# Nuclear Physics

Learn more about nuclear physics, the scientific field that uncovers the inner workings of atomic nuclei. This article elucidates the vital concepts, equations, and processes involved in nuclear physics, from a basic introduction to more complex topics. Discover how this dynamic discipline finds applications in various industries. Gain insights into how nuclear physics can help to predict radioactive decay and understand nuclear instability. Deeper knowledge of nuclear physics awaits you, from groundbreaking uses to a thorough examination of intricate processes.

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## Understanding Nuclear Physics

Nuclear Physics occupies a prominent place in the world of science. It provides a gateway to understanding the fundamental constituents of matter and is the key to harnessing nuclear energy.

### What is Nuclear Physics: A Basic Introduction

On entering the realm of Nuclear Physics, you might find yourself asking: What is Nuclear Physics?

Nuclear Physics is the branch of physics that deals with the study of the atomic nucleus, including its properties, structure, and behaviour. It investigates the interactions and forces between nuclear particles like protons and neutrons.

It began with the discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel in 1896. This was followed by a series of ground-breaking experiments, including Ernest Rutherford's alpha scattering experiment in 1909, which led to the innovative concept of the nuclear structure of the atom.

Today, Nuclear Physics applications range broadly from power generation in nuclear reactors to medical isotope production, climate change research, and understanding the stars.

The formula for calculating the energy released in nuclear reactions came from one of the most famous equations in physics, $$E=mc^2$$, derived by Albert Einstein. In this equation $$E$$ stands for energy, $$m$$ for mass, and $$c$$ for the speed of light in a vacuum. This equation suggests that mass can be converted into energy and vice versa, a principle that underpins nuclear reactions.

#### Key Elements and Concepts in Nuclear Physics

The following are some of the core concepts that form the foundation of Nuclear Physics:

• The Nucleus: The nucleus, discovered by Ernest Rutherford, is at the centre of an atom. It is composed of protons and neutrons, collectively known as nucleons.
• Radioactivity: A spontaneous process where an unstable nucleus emits radiation to achieve a stable configuration.

For example, in the case of Uranium-238, it decays and emits an alpha particle, leading to the formation of a more stable nucleus of Thorium-234.

Another important concept is the nuclear force, which is responsible for binding the nucleons together inside the nucleus despite the repulsive electrostatic force between the protons.

Overall, these concepts, protons, neutrons, nucleus, and nuclear forces, form the basis of nuclear physics.

 Feature Definition Proton A positively charged particle inside the nucleus Neutron A neutral particle inside the nucleus Nuclear Force The strong force that binds protons and neutrons inside the nucleus

## Applications and Uses of Nuclear Physics

In the world of science, Nuclear Physics has paved the way for a multitude of practical applications. Its findings permeate various sectors, including healthcare, energy generation, pollution control, and technological advancement. Now, let's delve into how this particular branch of science impacts daily life and transforms industries.

### Everyday Examples of Nuclear Physics

Perhaps unbeknownst to some, Nuclear Physics plays a significant role in everyday life. Its principles are applied in various commonplace facilities and activities, offering safe and efficient solutions to many modern-day challenges.

A leading example of this is Radioactive Dating. This method, also known as radiometric dating, involves the calculation of the age of an object based on the quantity of certain radioactive elements it contains. This technique employs the concept of radioactive decay, a pivotal theme in Nuclear Physics, and is extensively used in numerous scientific fields, from archaeology to geology.

Another instance is the ubiquitous use of Smoke Detectors in homes and offices. Did you know that these devices use a small amount of a radioisotope called Americium-241? It emits alpha particles that ionise air, allowing an electric current to flow. If smoke enters the detector, it disrupts this flow, triggering the alarm. All this is possible thanks to the principles of Nuclear Physics.

Consider the humble, yet essential, salt that you use in your kitchen. It is iodised to prevent iodine deficiency disorders. But how do you think the iodine content of salt is estimated? Nuclear techniques, specifically neutron activation analysis, are used. The salt is bombarded with neutrons, which makes the iodine radioactive. It then emits gamma radiation, which can be measured to determine the amount of iodine present in the salt.

Other popular examples of Nuclear Physics in daily life include providing power through nuclear reactors, carbon dating for archaeological studies, and cancer treatment through radiotherapy. Let's delve deeper into the impact of nuclear physics on various industries.

#### Groundbreaking Uses of Nuclear Physics in Various Industries

Nuclear Physics shapes, underpins, and drives innovation in various industries. It's crucial to the generation of nuclear energy, medical diagnostics and treatments, and scientific research.

The Nuclear Power Industry operates based on the principle of nuclear fission. Large amounts of energy can be produced from small amounts of uranium or plutonium. Aside from electricity production, nuclear energy is used in ships, submarines, and spacecraft.

In the Healthcare Industry, nuclear medicine provides diagnostic and treatment options, especially for cancer through radiotherapy. PET scans use radioactive substances to visualise body functions, detecting early stages of diseases not visible through other techniques.

In the realm of Environmental Science, Nuclear Physics contributes significantly. For instance, radioisotopic tracers help understand oceanic currents and the impact of pollution on marine life. In agriculture, irradiation preserves food by killing harmful organisms, extending the shelf life without the need for potentially harmful chemical preservatives.

Beyond these sectors, Nuclear Physics brings revolutionary changes to various fields, from materials testing in engineering and construction to research in astronomy, material science, and part of the large Hadron Collider.

Nuclear Physics continually expands our understanding and control of the natural world, leading to inventions and improvements that benefit society.

 Industry Application of Nuclear Physics The Nuclear Power Industry Use of nuclear fission for major energy generation Healthcare Used in PET scans, cancer treatment through radiotherapy Environmental Science Use of radioisotopic tracers to determine impact of pollution. Food preservation via irradiation.

## Unpacking Nuclear Physics Equations

Nuclear Physics is a discipline steeped in complex mathematical equations. Unravelling these formulas offers a deeper understanding of the principles that govern nuclear phenomena. Let's delve into some of these influential equations and highlight the crucial aspects embedded within them.

### Nuclear Physics Equations: A Comprehensive Breakdown

Nuclear Physics is rich with mathematical equations that encapsulate the complex nature of nuclear activity. Understanding these equations is fundamental to gaining a comprehensive understanding of how nuclear processes work.

The cornerstone of Nuclear Physics equations is $$E=mc^2$$, also known as Einstein's mass-energy equivalence principle, which states that energy can be transformed into mass, and vice versa. This is a pivotal concept in nuclear physics, serving as the underlying principle dictating the energy balance of nuclear reactions.

Apart from this, another critical equation in nuclear physics is the one which describes radioactive decay. It is given by $$N = N_0 e^{-\lambda t}$$, where $$N$$ is the number of undecayed nuclei present at time $$t$$, $$N_0$$is the initial number of nuclei, $$\lambda$$ is the decay constant, and $$t$$ is the time elapsed. This exponential decay equation essentially specifies how the number of undecayed nuclei diminishes over time.

Let's consider an example. Suppose $$N_0 = 1000$$, $$\lambda = 0.005$$ per second and you want to find out the number of undecayed nuclei after 200 seconds. By plugging these values into the equation, you find $$N \approx 37$$. This suggests that after 200 seconds, approximately 37 out of the original 1000 nuclei remain undecayed.

Another key component in nuclear physics is the semi-empirical mass formula, often referred to as Bethe-Weizsäcker formula or the liquid drop model. It estimates the binding energy ($$B$$) to hold the nucleons together inside a nucleus, and it is given by: $B = a_vA - a_SA^{2/3} - a_c\frac{Z(Z-1)}{A^{1/3}} - a_A\frac{(A - 2Z)^2}{A} + \delta(A, Z)$ Where: - $$A$$ and $$Z$$ are the mass number and atomic number. - $$a_v$$, $$a_S$$, $$a_c$$, and $$a_A$$ are constants related to the volume, surface, coulomb, and asymmetry energies. - $$\delta(A, Z)$$ is the pairing term.

This formula aims to explain the distribution of isotopes and nuclear stability. Although it simplifies the complex nature of the nucleus, it offers an approximate understanding of nuclear force and binding energy.

 Equation Principle/Idea $$E=mc^2$$ Energy-Mass Equivalence $$N = N_0 e^{-\lambda t}$$ Radioactive Decay Semi-empirical mass formula Estimation of nuclear Binding Energy

#### How Nuclear Physics Equations Govern Nuclear Activity

Nuclear Physics equations provide the mathematical backbone to explain and predict nuclear phenomena, such as radioactive decay, nuclear stability, and energy transformations.

For instance, the equation for radioactive decay allows us to determine the activity of radioactive substances over time and predict their half-life, which is crucial in various industries, from nuclear power generation to waste management and radiomedicine.

Half-life is the time required for half of the radioactive substance to decay. It can be calculated using the formula $$t_{1/2} = \frac{0.693}{\lambda}$$, where $$\lambda$$ is the decay constant. This equation is fundamental in determining the usability and risk associated with radioactive substances.

Consider a radioactive substance with a half-life of 5 years. This means that if you start with 1000 g of the substance, after 5 years you'll have 500 g left. After another 5 years (10 years total), you'll have 250 g remaining, and so on.

Moreover, Einstein's mass-energy equivalence principle underpins the entire nuclear power industry, from fission in nuclear reactors to fusion in the sun. Understanding this equation enables us to calculate the energy produced and thus design efficient nuclear power systems.

Lastly, equations like the semi-empirical mass formula provide insight into nuclear stability. It allows us to estimate the binding energy and understand nuclear reactions, including fission and fusion. These contribute significantly to advancements in energy production and medical applications like cancer treatment.

Did you know equations related to nuclear decay are used to estimate the age of our planet and other planetary bodies? The method, known as radiometric dating, supports solving important queries about our universe and the existence of life. Understanding these equations opens up an entirely new perspective on how we perceive time and age.

In summary, the equations of nuclear physics play a crucial role in various nuclear activities and phenomena. Grasping these equations imbues us with the power to gauge the intricacies of nuclear processes, predict outcomes, and employ nuclear principles for the betterment of society.

 Equation Application/Area $$E=mc^2$$ Nuclear Power Generation $$N = N_0 e^{-\lambda t}$$ Nuclear Power, Waste Management, Radiomedicine Semi-empirical mass formula Nuclear Energy Production, Medical Applications

## The Relation between Nuclear Physics and Radioactive Decay

Unveiling the mysteries of the atomic nucleus, Nuclear Physics remains at the heart of understanding Radioactive Decay. This scientific field delves deep into the dynamics of the nucleus, and how its instability leads to the natural phenomenon known as Radioactive Decay.

### Understanding Radioactive Decay in Nuclear Physics

Digging into the realm of Nuclear Physics, it's crucial to understand how this scientific domain deciphers the phenomenon of Radioactive Decay. To comprehend this, let's first shed light on what is meant by Radioactive Decay.

Radioactive Decay is a natural process where an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting radiation. This radioactive emission can take the form of an alpha particle, beta particle, or gamma radiation, amongst others.

The study of this decay process has been a crucial part of Nuclear Physics. It all started with the groundbreaking experiments by pioneers like Henri Becquerel and Marie Curie, and their investigation into the mysterious nature of radioactive substances. This led to the core principles that outline the process of Radioactive Decay.

The primary driving force behind Radioactive Decay is the quest for stability. Certain atomic nuclei contain an unstable combination of protons and neutrons, leading to a high energy state. The nucleus instigates a decay to attain a more stable, low-energy state. The decay process continues until it results in a stable nucleus.

Consider Uranium-238. It undergoes a series of decays, known as the uranium series or uranium cascade, emitting alpha and beta particles. This series ends when it finally decays into the stable isotope, Lead-206.

Intriguingly, the decay process is spontaneous and random, with each unstable nucleus having a constant probability of decaying. Nuclear Physics, with its mathematical constructs, provides substantial tools to predict this purely random process.

#### The Role of Nuclear Physics in Predicting Radioactive Decay

While individual radioactive decay events are random and impossible to predict, Nuclear Physics, with the help of statistical methods, provides an impressive means of predicting radioactive decay in a population of unstable nuclei.

This feat is accomplished using one of the fundamental equations of Nuclear Physics. The radioactive decay law equation, $$N = N_0 e^{-\lambda t}$$, allows for the calculation of the number of undecayed nuclei at any given time $$t$$. Here, $$N_0$$is the initial number of unstable nuclei, $$\lambda$$ is the decay constant unique to the specific radioactive isotope, and $$e$$ is the base of natural logarithm.

The Decay Constant ($$\lambda$$) is a measure of the probability that a given nucleus will decay per unit time. It's inversely proportional to the mean lifetime of a radioactive nucleus. A higher value of $$\lambda$$ implies a more unstable nucleus that decays rapidly.

For instance, suppose we have a sample containing 5000 unstable nuclei with a decay constant of $$0.00012 s^{-1}$$. Using the equation, we can predict that after 100 seconds, around 2023 nuclei will remain undecayed.

A related concept that yields insight into the rate of decay is half-life, represented by the symbol $$T_{1/2}$$. The half-life of a radioactive substance is the time it takes for half of the unstable nuclei to decay. Its value can be derived using the equation, $$T_{1/2} = \frac{0.693}{\lambda}$$. It offers an effective way of comparing the stability of different isotopes, with a longer half-life indicating a slower rate of decay, and hence, a relatively more stable isotope.

Interestingly, Carbon-14 dating, frequently employed in archaeology, is a prominent application of the half-life concept. Carbon-14, a radioactive isotope, decays at a known rate, with a half-life of approximately 5730 years. By comparing the ratio of Carbon-14 to stable Carbon-12 in a sample, it's possible to estimate the time elapsed since the death of organic organisms, efficiently dating archaeological artifacts and geological samples.

Thus, despite the randomness and unpredictability of individual decays, Nuclear Physics provides a statistical framework to predict the overall decay trend of a radioactive sample. With mathematical equations and understanding of nuclear behaviour, it allows us to envisage the dynamic behaviour of unstable nuclei over time, significantly impacting various scientific areas.

 Concept Role in Nuclear Physics Randomness of Decay Challenges the predictability of individual decay events Decay Constant Measures the probability of decay, enabling the prediction of overall decay trend Half-life Offers an insight into the stability of radioactive isotopes and aids in radiometric dating

## Exploring Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Instability

Diving deeper into the intricacies of Nuclear Physics, it's evident that a central theme underpinning numerous nuclear phenomena is the concept of Nuclear Instability. Grasping this concept is fundamental to understand the behaviour of atomic nuclei and their consequent radioactive decay.

### Understanding Nuclear Instability in the Context of Nuclear Physics

Propelling the study of Nuclear Physics, nuclear instability is a cornerstone concept. To dissect it accurately, let's first clarify what exactly nuclear instability entails.

Nuclear Instability refers to the state of an atomic nucleus when it has a configuration of protons and neutrons that results in a high energy state. This unstable nucleus tends to change toward a more stable configuration through a process known as radioactive decay, emitting radiation in the process.

Nuclear instability arises due to the interplay of two significant forces within the atomic nucleus: the strong nuclear force and the electrostatic force. The strong nuclear force binds protons and neutrons (collectively known as nucleons) together and acts over a very short range. In contrast, the electrostatic force, the repulsive force between protons, acts over a relatively long-range. If the balance between these two forces gets disrupted, it can lead to a state of nuclear instability.

Consider an atom of uranium-235, a naturally occurring isotope. In this nucleus, the combined effects of the increase in the electrostatic repulsion between the numerous protons and the decrease in the nuclear strong force due to the large nucleus size, tip the balance leading to nuclear instability. This atom is susceptible to decay, emitting alpha particles, and transforming into a more stable nucleus of thorium-231.

Delving further, the degree of nuclear instability is often associated with the neutron-to-proton ratio of the nucleus. Certain ratios tend to result in more stable configurations. For lighter elements, this ratio is generally 1:1, but for heavier elements, a larger number of neutrons are required to offset the increased electrostatic repulsion between protons.

#### Consequences and Causes of Nuclear Instability: A Nuclear Physics Perspective

Upon identifying a nucleus as unstable, it begs the question - what compels a nucleus towards instability, and what are the repercussions of this nuclear instability?

To start off, let's explore the causes of nuclear instability. As mentioned earlier, the balance between the strong nuclear force and the electrostatic force is crucial. An excess of either protons or neutrons can disrupt this balance and lead to instability. For instance, isotopes with significantly more neutrons than protons often exhibit beta-minus decay, transforming a neutron into a proton, an electron, and an electron antineutrino to move towards stability. In contrast, isotopes with excessive protons may exhibit beta-plus decay, converting a proton into a neutron, a positron, and an electron neutrino.

Beta-minus decay and Beta-plus decay are types of radioactive decay where a neutron or proton is transformed into its counterpart, and a beta particle (either an electron or positron) and a neutrino or antineutrino are emitted.

Complementing this, another contributing factor to nuclear instability is the size of the nucleus. As the nuclear size increases (i.e., as we move to higher atomic numbers), the long-range electrostatic force becomes more potent compared to the short-range strong nuclear force. This intersperses instability within heavier atoms like uranium and plutonium, making them naturally radioactive.

On the other hand, proton-rich isotopes like Carbon-11, which has six protons and five neutrons, can undergo beta-plus decay, converting a proton into a neutron and emitting a positron and an electron neutrino in the process.

Moving on to the consequences of nuclear instability, the most prominent implication is radioactive decay. This process of an unstable nucleus transforming into a more stable one brings along the emission of high-energy particles or electromagnetic waves - the essence of radiation. This radiation has a spectrum of effects, constituting both the beneficial and hazardous impacts of nuclear physics.

Did you know that it's these radioactive decay processes that equip us with important tools like radiocarbon dating? On the flip side, radiation from decay processes is a potent hazard that needs careful handling and disposal. This is a critical aspect in industries like nuclear power generation, necessitating stringent protocols for waste disposal.

Moreover, concepts of nuclear instability and radioactive decay lie at the heart of nuclear energy production. With nuclear fission in power plants, the instability of heavy elements like uranium is exploited energetically.

Analysing these causes and consequences demonstrates the key role nuclear instability plays within nuclear physics and delineates its cross-disciplinary implications, from powering our societies to navigating the realms of medical diagnostics and treatment.

 Factor Leading to Nuclear Instability Associated Decay Mode Neutron-rich nuclei Beta-minus decay Proton-rich nuclei Beta-plus decay Large nuclear size Alpha decay

## Examining Processes in Nuclear Physics

The exciting realm of Nuclear Physics is densely packed with intricate and complex processes executed within the tiny yet potent atomic nucleus. These processes, ranging from radioactive decay to nuclear fission and fusion, culminate into significant physical phenomena, influencing everything from the production of energy to the interpretation of archaeological artifacts. Let's venture closer to comprehend these remarkable activities that occur in the nucleus.

### Nuclear Physics Processes and their Significance

Domesticating the horrendously minute, yet massively potent domain of the atomic nucleus pulls back the curtain on some truly captivating processes. Their study lies at the heart of Nuclear Physics.

The chief amongst these processes is Radioactive Decay, a spontaneous process driven by the inherent instability of certain atomic nuclei. During decay, these unstable nuclei release radiation, transforming into a more stable nucleus.

Radioactive Decay reveals the fascinating interplay between the forces at work in an unstable nucleus as it reshuffles its nucleons (protons and neutrons) and emits radiation to reach a state of reduced energy and increased stability.

This radiation comes in several forms, from alpha and beta particles to gamma rays. Each type of radiation presents unique characteristics, penetration abilities, and associated risks, fundamentally shaping their various applications across countless scientific domains.

To illustrate, consider Radon-222. This isotope emits an alpha particle during decay, transforming into Polonium-218. The emitted alpha particle is a Helium nucleus, consisting of two protons and two neutrons. Despite being highly ionising and thus damaging to living tissue, its large size and +2 charge mean it does not penetrate far, often stopping in air or a sheet of paper.

Aside from Radioactive Decay, two other core nuclear processes are Nuclear Fission and Fusion. Both are reactions that alter the nucleus of an atom and release substantial amounts of energy.

• Nuclear Fission involves breaking a large nucleus, such as uranium or plutonium, into two smaller ones. This process releases a lot of energy and is responsible for the destructive power of nuclear weapons and the energy generation in nuclear power plants.
• Nuclear Fusion is the opposite: it involves joining two light nuclei, usually isotopes of hydrogen, to form a heavier nucleus, often helium. This process releases even more energy than nuclear fission and powers the Sun and other stars.

#### Demystifying Complex Nuclear Physics Processes

To truly appreciate the complexity and significance of these Nuclear Physics processes, it's valuable to delve a little deeper.

The process of Radioactive Decay is spontaneous and probabilistic, meaning that it's impossible to predict exactly when a particular nucleus will decay. However, each type of nucleus has a constant likelihood of decaying over time, represented mathematically by the decay constant ($$\lambda$$). The decay process can be quantified using equations, allowing scientists to make statistical predictions about the decay of large groups of nuclei, even if individual decay events are random.

The Decay Constant ($$\lambda$$) is an essential parameter in Nuclear Physics. It measures the probability that a specific nucleus will decay per unit time. It's unique for each type of nucleus and serves as a backbone for analysing and predicting Radioactive Decay phenomena.

Consider a radioactive substance with a known decay constant. Even if we cannot predict which specific nuclei within the substance will decay at any given moment, we can utilise the decay constant to predict how many nuclei in total will decay over a particular timescale. This is integral in various applications, such as computing the correct dosage of a radioactive substance in a medical setting.

Delving into Nuclear Fission, this process is usually triggered when the nucleus of a heavy atom, like uranium-235, captures a neutron. The additional neutron makes the nucleus unstable, causing it to split into two smaller nuclei and some self-sustaining ("prompt") neutrons. The process releases a considerable amount of energy and more neutrons, which can then trigger fission in other atoms, creating a chain reaction.

Nuclear Fusion, on the other hand, happens when the conditions are so hot and dense that the atomic nuclei come close enough for the strong nuclear force to bring them together. This process releases vast amounts of energy. However, achieving the high temperatures and pressures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth is highly challenging, and controlled fusion power remains a long-sought goal.

One fascinating rendition of Fusion is stellar nucleosynthesis, the process by which stars generate energy and new elements. Driven by enormous temperature and pressure, a star fuses hydrogen nuclei into helium in its core. For much of its life, a star is in balance, with the outward pressure created by fusion countering the inward pull of gravity. When hydrogen fuel begins to run low, the star expands into a red giant, and undergoes further fusion stages, creating heavier elements up to iron in its core. The heaviest natural elements are created in supernovae, where even more energetic fusion processes happen.

Examining these complex processes enables a comprehension that provides the underpinnings of numerous technologies and scientific advancements in the world, from the design of nuclear power plants to the understanding of the life cycle of stars.

 Process Implication Radioactive Decay Underpins the understanding of radiation and its wide use: from medicine to archaeology. Nuclear Fission Primary process for generating nuclear power and the operation of nuclear weapons. Nuclear Fusion Stars and the Sun generate their energy through Fusion, also a potential future power source.

## Nuclear Physics - Key takeaways

• Nuclear Physics: This is a scientific field that studies the underlying principle dictating the energy balance of nuclear reactions, properties, and behaviors of atomic nuclei.
• Einstein's mass-energy equivalence principle (E=mc^2): This pivotal equation transforms energy into mass and vice versa. It plays a significant role in dictating the energy balance in nuclear reactions.
• Radioactive Decay (N = N_0 e^-λt): This is the equation that describes the diminishing number of undecayed nuclei over time. The variables N and N_0 represent the number of undecayed nuclei present at time t and the initial number of nuclei, respectively, λ represents the decay constant and t the time elapsed.
• Bethe-Weizsäcker formula or the semi-empirical mass formula: This formula estimates the binding energy, B, needed to hold the nucleons inside a nucleus. It helps explain nuclear stability and the distribution of isotopes.
• Radioactive Decay: This is a natural process where an atomic nucleus in a high energy state loses energy by emitting radiation. This process continues until a stable, low-energy state nucleus is formed.

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##### Frequently Asked Questions about Nuclear Physics

What is nuclear physics used for?

Nuclear physics can be used in areas such as energy tracing methods, sterilisation, monitoring, medicine, and many more.

What is binding energy in nuclear physics?

The energy produced by the strong force in the nucleus is called ‘binding energy’. The binding energy is responsible for keeping the atom together.

Who is known as the father of nuclear physics?

Ernest Rutherford is known as the father of nuclear physics. However, it is indisputable that the knowledge produced by Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Curie, makes them also progenitors of nuclear physics.

## Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

When fission occurs, what happens? Choose the correct answer.

What is the average velocity of the electrons during fission for uranium-235?

Name the two types of fission processes.

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