Fission and Fusion – What is it?

Fission is the splitting of Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239. Fusion is the combining of hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium and millions of degrees.


“[220/365] Nuclear Fear (Explored)” by pasukaru76 is marked with CC0 1.0

By: Aidan Musgrove, Journalist

We have yet to discover fusion and fusion, the two most clean energy sources, but we can only harness one. Fission is the splitting of Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239. Fusion is the combining of hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium and millions of degrees. We have only been able to create fusion in bombs.

How Does Fission Work?

Fission is the splitting of either uranium or plutonium isotopes to create heat energy in the form of steam. They are cased in a small ceramic pellet and placed in a tube called a fuel rod. After the elements are spent, the fuel rods are placed in cases and spend the next few decades sitting at the bottom of a pool. Every 7 centimeters of water blocking the fuel casks reduces the amount of radiation by half so that the safe distance would be a few meters away, but if you swam down and touched the cask with your elbows, you would die before you reached the surface. Corporations also store spent fuel rods underground in casings of lead and concrete, and both dry and wet storing are reviewed by the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The atoms create heat by sending a molecule trigger into a fuel rod, and the atoms start a chain reaction of splitting, creating immense heat and steam. The steam then turns a turbine which spins a magnet around copper wires and collects the electrons from the wires.


Many nuclear power plants have been built since fission was discovered, and they produce 10% of the world’s power today. The famous Chernobyl reactor had a flawed reactor design, and the crew that handled it were untrained. This caused an explosion in the fourth reactor, and the fire spread radioactive material around that part of Ukraine. This happened on April 26, 1986, 15 years after the first reactor was built. A small radiation rise was even detected in the United Kingdoms.

How Does Fusion Work?

Fusion is the combing of deuterium and tritium at millions of degrees. The good thing about this is that the materials needed are widespread and do not produce radioactive waste. It also creates 4 times as much energy as fusion. The bad thing is that we have no container to store something that hot for sustained amounts of time, and the heat is tough to create. The two instances of fusion we can create are from a bomb and a lab. The lab-created fusion for a concise amount of time took more energy than what came out of it. The bomb is called the hydrogen bomb. The heat is created from a normal nuclear bomb, and the pressure and heat combine the deuterium and tritium to create fusion. The explosive is also called a thermonuclear bomb, and it releases energy equal to 1,000 tons of TNT and is hundreds of times more powerful than a normal fission bomb. This makes the Chernobyl accident look like a cherry bomb. The sun also fuses hydrogen to create heat and light. It burns 600 million tons of hydrogen every second. That is 1.2e+12 or 1,200,000,000,000 pounds of material per second.

Fusion vs. Fission

The obvious answer here is fusion. 4 times the energy in the same amount of time, no nuclear waste, and common fuel, but fission also has some plus sides. For one, we can actually conduct fission without spending extraneous amounts of energy. But another downfall to fission is what would happen if a reactor failed in some way. The explosion could spread radiation through the nearby ecosystem and hurt a lot of people. So, fusion would be the better choice.