Atomic and Nuclear Physics
All of the neutron absorption reactions that do not result in fission lead to the production of new
nuclides through the process known as transmutation. These nuclides can, in turn, be transmuted
again or may undergo radioactive decay to produce still different nuclides. The nuclides that are
produced by this process are referred to as transmutation products. Because several of the fissile
nuclides do not exist in nature, they can only be produced by nuclear reactions (transmutation).
The target nuclei for such reactions are said to be fertile. Fertile materials are materials that can
undergo transmutation to become fissile materials. Figure 19 traces the transmutation mechanism
by which two fertile nuclides, thorium-232 and uranium-238, produce uranium-233 and
Figure 19 Conversion of Fertile Nuclides to Fissile Nuclides
If a reactor contains fertile material in addition to its fissile fuel, some new fuel will be produced
as the original fuel is burned up. This is called conversion. Reactors that are specifically
designed to produce fissionable fuel are called "breeder" reactors. In such reactors, the amount
of fissionable fuel produced is greater than the amount of fuel burnup. If less fuel is produced
than used, the process is called conversion, and the reactor is termed a "converter."