# How are fusion and fission similar?

May 23, 2014

Fusion and fission are similar in that they both release large amounts of energy.

Nuclear fusion is a process in which two nuclei join to form a larger nucleus.

$\text{_5^10"B" + _2^4"He" → _7^13"N" + _0^1"n}$ + energy

Nuclear fission is a process in which a nucleus splits into two smaller nuclei.

$\text{_92^235"U" + _0^1"n" → _56^142"Ba" + _36^91"Kr" +3_0^1"n}$ + energy

At first sight, it doesn’t make sense that both fission and fusion release energy.

The key is in how tightly the nucleons are held together in a nucleus. If a nuclear reaction produces nuclei that are more tightly bound than the originals, then the excess energy will be released.

It turns out that the most tightly bound atomic nuclei are around the size of iron-56.

Thus, if you split a nucleus that is much larger than iron into smaller fragments, you will release energy because the smaller fragments are at a lower energy than the original nucleus.

If instead you fuse very light nuclei to get bigger products, energy is again released because the nucleons in the products are more tightly bound than in the original nuclei.