Chemistry » Nuclear Chemistry » Transmutation and Nuclear Energy

# Control Rods

## Control Rods

Nuclear reactors use control rods (see the figure below) to control the fission rate of the nuclear fuel by adjusting the number of slow neutrons present to keep the rate of the chain reaction at a safe level. Control rods are made of boron, cadmium, hafnium, or other elements that are able to absorb neutrons. Boron-10, for example, absorbs neutrons by a reaction that produces lithium-7 and alpha particles:

$${}_{\phantom{\rule{0.5em}{0ex}}5}^{10}\text{B}+{}_{0}^{1}\text{n}\;⟶\;{}_{3}^{7}\text{Li}+{}_{2}^{4}\text{He}$$

When control rod assemblies are inserted into the fuel element in the reactor core, they absorb a larger fraction of the slow neutrons, thereby slowing the rate of the fission reaction and decreasing the power produced. Conversely, if the control rods are removed, fewer neutrons are absorbed, and the fission rate and energy production increase. In an emergency, the chain reaction can be shut down by fully inserting all of the control rods into the nuclear core between the fuel rods.

The nuclear reactor core shown in (a) contains the fuel and control rod assembly shown in (b). (credit: modification of work by E. Generalic, http://glossary.periodni.com/glossary.php?en=control+rod)