Nuclear energy is released by the splitting (fission) or merging together (fusion) of the nuclei of atom(s). The conversion of nuclear mass to energy is consistent with the mass-energy equivalence formula ΔE = Δm.c², in which ΔE = energy release, Δm = mass defect, and c = the speed of light in a vacuum (a physical constant). Nuclear energy was first discovered by French physicist Henri Becquerel in 1896, when he found that photographic plates stored in the dark near uranium were blackened like X-ray plates, which had been just recently discovered at the time 1894.
Nuclear chemistry can be used as a form of alchemy to turn lead into gold or change any atom to any other atom (albeit through many steps). Radionuclide (radioisotope) production often involves irradiation of another isotope (or more precisely a nuclide), with alpha particles, beta particles, or gamma rays. Iron has the highest binding energy per nucleon of any atom. If an atom of lower average binding energy is changed into an atom of higher average binding energy, energy is given off. The chart shows that fusion of hydrogen, the combination to form heavier atoms, releases energy, as does fission of uranium, the breaking up of a larger nucleus into smaller parts. Stability varies between isotopes: the isotope U-235 is much less stable than the more common U-238.
Nuclear energy is released by three exoenergetic (or exothermic) processes:
Nuclear energy is the energy that holds together the nucleii of atoms. Atoms are the most simple blocks that make up matter. Every atom has in its center a very small nucleus. Normally, nuclear energy is hidden inside the atoms. However, some atoms are radioactive and send off part of their nuclear energy as radiation. Radiation is given off from the nucleus of unstable isotopes of radioactive substances.
Nuclear energy can also be freed in two other ways: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. Nuclear fusion is the combining of two atoms into one and nuclear fission is the splitting of an atom. Both ways make big amounts of energy. They sometimes take place in nature. Fusion is the source of heat in the sun. Fission is also used in nuclear power plants to make electricity. Both fusion and fission can be used in nuclear weapons.