Why ion propulsion?

Are ion engines nuclear?

No. Ion engines work on the principles of charged particles. They are not nuclear and therefore are not radioactive. Ion engines work by stripping the electrons off atoms so that the atoms become charged particles (ions). They then speed up these ions by setting up an electric field which then accelerates the ion out of the back of the rocket engine.

Ion engines can be more simply thought of as static electricity engines. Just as dust particles tend to be attracted to charged surfaces; ion rockets attract ions towards a charged grid in the back of the engine and then send them shooting off into space. Ion engines work by taking a gas and heating it until it is so hot that that some electrons disassociate from the atoms. This superheated matter is not longer a gas but is called plasma. In gases entire atoms are separate entities flying around and randomly bumping each other but in plasma the atoms have been stripped of some or all of their electrons and are a bunch of positive ions floating in a shared electron soup. The positive nuclei in this electron soup are then accelerated towards the charged back grid and then zoom out into space.

What is an ion?
What is an atom?
How does DS1's engine work?
How could something as small as an atom move a space craft?
What is the difference between an ion engine and a conventional one?

What is plasma?
How are ions charged?
How are ions accelerated?
What does electrically charged mean?
What happens to the ions once they leave the space craft?
Are ion engines radioactive?