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The property of zirconium that makes it desirable for use in nuclear power reactors is its transparency to the passage of thermal neutrons that cause the fission of other uranium atoms with the evolution of heat. Some materials allow the passage of these neutrons quite freely while others absorb them. This characteristic is called the thermal neutron absorption cross section and is measured in barns per atom. Zirconium is distinguished by a low cross section and its companion element, hafnium, by a high one as shown in Table 2-1 which lists values for a number of common metals.