Difference Between Chemical Reaction and Nuclear Reaction

Have you ever helped your mother or father when they cook? If yes, then you must have observed many chemical reactions. Various chemical reactions occur around us such as photosynthesis, baking of bread and cake, burning of coal, burning of LPG etc. Even reaction in respiration is also an example of chemical reaction. On the other hand, nuclear reactions are rare compared to chemical reactions. Generally, we don’t observe nuclear reactions in our daily life. Because nuclear reactions accompanied by large enthalpy changes. Nuclear fission releases a tremendous amount of energy while nuclear fusion requires very high temperatures and releases more energy than nuclear fission. The Sun has been a source of energy since ancient times. Do you know what is the reason behind continuous emission of energy from the Sun? Answer is that a nuclear fusion reaction takes place in the Sun which emits a tremendous amount of energy. Let us first discuss what is chemical reaction and nuclear reaction in brief then we will discuss the difference between chemical reaction and nuclear reaction in detail.  

What is Chemical Reaction? 

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A chemical reaction is the process in which reactants react chemically and convert into products by chemical transformation. For example – Respiration – we inhale oxygen which reacts with glucose and produces carbon dioxide, water and energy. The substances which react to form new substance/s in chemical reactions are called reactants while the new substance/s formed are called product/s. Equation of respiration reaction (a chemical reaction) is given below – 

C6H12O6  +  6O2 🡪 6CO2 + 6H2O + Energy 

General form of Chemical Reaction can be written as follows –

A + B               🡪               C + D 

Reactants                          Products 

In all chemical reactions chemical change/s takes place. It means as burning of coal produces sulfur dioxide and many other gases with fly ash which is a different chemical substance than coal, so it’s a chemical change. While when water (liquid) converts into ice no chemical change takes place, so it is not a chemical reaction. 

Chemical reactions are of many types such as addition reaction, combustion reaction, neutralization reaction, displacement reaction, decomposition reaction and precipitation reaction etc. 

What is Nuclear Reaction?

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In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, the reactions in which one or more nuclides are produced by the collisions between atomic nuclei or subatomic particles & atomic nucleus, are called nuclear reactions.

Nuclear reactions release a tremendous amount of energy. Nuclear fission and nuclear fusion are two types of nuclear reactions. Humans have been able to control nuclear fission, but the amount of energy released in nuclear fusion is very large and we have not been able to control it till now. Some research is going on, but it is still years away from any practical application. Nuclear fusion takes place in the Sun. Sun has been the source of energy since the birth of the solar system. 

We use nuclear reactions to generate energy at large scale. Many power plants run on nuclear reactors in which the nuclear fission reaction takes place. But we need to be very vigilant and careful while using these reactions as energy sources because these reactions can be very dangerous in an uncontrolled way. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster is one such example.

What Is The Difference between A Chemical Reaction and Nuclear Reaction?

S. No. 

Chemical Reaction 

Nuclear Reaction 


A chemical reaction is the process in which reactants react chemically and convert into products by chemical transformation.

Nuclear reactions are those reactions in which nuclear transformation takes place. 


During chemical reactions elements remain the same and do not lose their identity. For example, in formation of the water molecule, hydrogen and oxygen elements participate. H and O remain the same in the product (no new element is formed) although their properties change.  

During chemical reactions atoms of the elements do not remain the same and loses their identity and form new elements. For example, beta decay of 14C releases a beta particle and forms 14N. 


Oxidation state of elements keeps matter in chemical reactions. 

Oxidation state of elements does not keep matter in nuclear reactions as reactivity of an element in nuclear reaction is independent of its oxidation state. 


Chemical reactivity of all isotopes of an element is almost the same (or has very less difference compared to nuclear reaction). 

Nuclear reactivity of isotopes of an element differs. For example, 235U undergoes nuclear fission faster than 238U. 


Rate of chemical reaction is affected by temperature, pressure and catalysts up to a large extent. 

Rate of nuclear reactions does not depend on temperature, pressure and catalysts but it depends on nucleons. 


Chemical reactions can be reversed.  

Nuclear reactions are irreversible. 


Chemical reactions are accompanied by smaller changes in energy. Energy change can be expressed in j/mol or Kj/mol.

Nuclear reactions are accompanied by larger changes in energy. Energy change is expressed in million electron volts per individual nucleus. 


Chemical reactions follow the law of conservation of mass. It means in these reactions no measurable change takes place in mass. 

Nuclear reactions do not follow the law of conservation of mass. In these reactions measurable change in mass takes place. 


Electrons present in orbits participate in these reactions while neutrons and protons do not take part in these reactions. 

In these reactions neutrons and protons also participate. 


These reactions occur when new bonds form and old bonds break between atoms. 

These reactions occur by nuclear fission or nuclear fusion. 


Example – Na + Cl 🡪 NaCl 

Example - 235U + 1n → 141Ba + 92Kr + 31n

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