There are a few differences between the nuclear processes and the chemical processes, and they are:
- Nuclear processes are based on the atom’s nucleus, while chemical processes are based on the rearrangement of the electrons.
- The chemical form of the element does not play a role in the nuclear processes.
- The rate at which chemical processes occur depends on external parameters such as temperature and pressure, while nuclear processes are independent of these parameters.
The four main reaction types
- Nuclear Decay
In fission reactions, a heavy nucleus is ‘split’ into two (or more) smaller nuclei. Fission reactions are exothermic that start with nuclei that are heavier than iron. Fission reactions are widely used to generate electrical power using uranium as a fuel and generating a wide array of fission products.
Fusion reactions are when two (or more) lighter nuclei come together to make a heavy nucleus. The fusion of four hydrogen atoms and two electrons into a single helium atom is the primary reaction in the sun (although it happens in several steps). Fusion reactions are exothermic for nuclei smaller than iron.
Nuclear decay is when an unstable isotope of a particular element spontaneously transforms into a new element by emission of ionizing radiation. Some nuclear decay involves the emission of a He-4 nucleus. Nuclear decay almost always involves large energy release in the form of radiation.
Transmutation is essentially the reverse of nuclear decay. It is a non-spontaneous process whereby one element is converted to another by bombarding it with high energy radiation (or neutrons). Transmutation involves increasing the mass of nuclei.