Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Containment
Name: Kerstin B.
Status: student
Age: 13
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 2001-2002

How do scientists contain the explosion when splitting atoms?

In scientific studies there is no "explosion" per se, as occurs in a bomb. There is the creation of numerous atoms and sub-atomic particles and energetic electromagnetic radiation (e.g. X-rays to name just one). These are contained by shielding -- that absorb these particles. The substances used as shields depends upon what fission products are. Lead, water and other materials are typical shield materials. The heat that is generated is absorbed by the shields that may/or may not connected to a heat exchanger.

Vince Calder

The fission reaction releases a lot of energy, which is absorbed by the matter in the area (air, the device, surrounding earth). This causes the absorbing toms and molecules to move very fast and collide with nearby atoms and molecules. The end result is a great increase in temperature and a tremendous expansion, which is an explosion.

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Assistant Director
PG Research Foundation, Darien, Illinois

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory