Critical mass

In nuclear engineering, a critical mass is the smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction. The critical mass of a fissionable material depends upon its nuclear properties (specifically, its nuclear fission cross-section), density, shape, enrichment, purity, temperature, and surroundings. The concept is important in nuclear weapon design.

A re-creation of the 1945 criticality accident using the Demon core: a plutonium pit is surrounded by blocks of neutron-reflective tungsten carbide. The original experiment was designed to measure the radiation produced when an extra block was added. The mass went supercritical when the block was placed improperly by being dropped.

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