Criticality (status)
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In the operation of a
nuclear reactor A nuclear reactor is a device used to initiate and control a fission nuclear chain reaction or nuclear fusion reactions. Nuclear reactors are used at nuclear power plants for electricity generation and in nuclear marine propulsion. Heat from nu ...
, criticality is the state in which a
nuclear chain reaction In nuclear physics, a nuclear chain reaction occurs when one single nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more subsequent nuclear reactions, thus leading to the possibility of a Positive feedback, self-propagating series of these reaction ...
is self-sustaining—that is, when reactivity is zero. In supercritical states, reactivity is greater than zero.


Applications

Criticality is the normal operating condition of a nuclear reactor, in which nuclear fuel sustains a
fission chain reaction Fission, a splitting of something into two or more parts, may refer to: * Fission (biology) Fission, in biology, is the division of a single entity into two or more parts and the regeneration of those parts to separate entities resembling the or ...
. A reactor achieves criticality (and is said to be critical) when each fission releases a sufficient number of neutrons to sustain an ongoing series of nuclear reactions. The
International Atomic Energy Agency The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an intergovernmental organization that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology, nuclear energy and to inhibit its use for any military purpose, including nuclear weapons. It was ...
defines the ''first criticality date'' as the date when the reactor is made critical for the first time. This is an important
milestone A milestone is a numbered marker placed on a route such as a road, railway, railway line, canal or border, boundary. They can indicate the distance to towns, cities, and other places or landmarks; or they can give their position on the rou ...
in the construction and commissioning of a
nuclear power plant A nuclear power plant (NPP) is a thermal power station in which the heat source is a nuclear reactor. As is typical of thermal power stations, heat is used to generate steam that drives a steam turbine connected to a electric generator, generato ...
.


See also

*
Criticality accident A criticality accident is an accidental uncontrolled nuclear fission chain reaction. It is sometimes referred to as a critical excursion, critical power excursion, or divergent chain reaction. Any such event involves the unintended accumulation ...
*
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 atomic nucleus, nuclear properties (specifically, it ...
*
Prompt criticality In nuclear engineering Nuclear engineering is the branch of engineering Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and building ...


References

{{reflist Nuclear chemistry Nuclear physics Nuclear technology Radioactivity