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Process yielding products that initiate further processes of the same kind. Nuclear chain reactions are a series of nuclear fissions initiated by neutrons produced in a preceding fission. A critical mass, large enough to allow more than one fission-produced neutron to be captured, is necessary for the chain reaction to be self-sustaining. Uncontrolled chain reactions, as in an atomic bomb, occur when large numbers of neutrons are present and the reactions multiply very quickly. Nuclear reactors control their reactions through the careful distribution of the fissionable material and insertion of neutron-absorbing materials.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on chain reaction, visit Britannica.com.