The neutrons produced in fission of 235U nuclei have average KE about 2 MeV. Such neutrons are called fast neutrons. These fast neutrons have more tendency to escape instead of triggering another fission reaction. Slow neutrons are more efficient in inducing fission in 92U235 nuclei than fast neutrons. By the use of a moderator, the fast neutrons are slowed to thermal velocities i.e. velocities » 2200 m/s & energies » 0.0235 eV, it is same as that of atoms and molecules at room temperatures, such slow moving neutrons are called thermal neutrons. Light target are better moderators. The commonly used moderator are water, heavy water (D2O), graphite and beryllium. About 25 collisions with deutrons (present in heavy water) or 100 collisions with carbon or beryllium are sufficient to slow down a neutron from 2 MeV to thermal energies.
A good moderator must have:
- low atomic weight
- should collide elastically with neutrons.
- should not absorb the neutrons