United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment
Home > NRC Library > Basic References > Glossary > Fissionable material

Fissionable material

A nuclide that is capable of undergoing fission after capturing either high-energy (fast) neutrons or low-energy thermal (slow) neutrons. Although formerly used as a synonym for fissile material, fissionable materials also include those (such as uranium-238) that can be fissioned only with high-energy neutrons. As a result, fissile materials (such as uranium-235) are a subset of fissionable materials.

Uranium-235 fissions with low-energy thermal neutrons because the binding energy resulting from the absorption of a neutron is greater than the critical energy required for fission; therefore uranium-235 is a fissile material. By contrast, the binding energy released by uranium-238 absorbing a thermal neutron is less than the critical energy, so the neutron must possess additional energy for fission to be possible. Consequently, uranium-238 is a fissionable material.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Friday, July 06, 2018