Radiation From Nuclear Weapons and Reactor Disasters

Most recent answer: 07/17/2015

Why do nuclear weapons cause so much radiation?Can you describe to me the process of what happens when a nuclear weapon detonates?
- Michael David Lavin (age 21)
Fort Sam Houston, Texas, Unitied States

Hi Michael,

The basic fuels for both weapons and nuclear reactors are uranium-235 and plutonium-239.   When bombarded by neutrons they will split into a variety of smaller mass nuclei and release energy.  Many of these final products are radioactive themselves and will decay into even less massive nuclei and emit gamma and beta radiation.   One of the nastier ones is Cesium-137 that has a half-life of 30 years...  bad news for the people living around the are of Chernobyl.    Here are a couple of web sites that will help:



p.s. The energy released includes lots of neutrons (that's what keeps the chain reaction going) and when they hit other things they can convert other nuclei of dirt, buildings, etc. to radioactive forms, adding to the fallout. Mike W.

(published on 07/17/2015)

Follow-up on this answer