Critical mass

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 nuclear properties (specifically, the nuclear fission cross-section), its density, its shape, its enrichment, its purity, its temperature, and its surroundings. The concept is important in nuclear weapon design.


As part of a re-creation of a 1945 criticality accident, a plutonium pit is surrounded by blocks of neutron-reflective tungsten carbide. The original experiment was designed to measure the radiation produced when an extra block was added. Instead, the mass went supercritical.

See also: