Nuclear Binding Energy Curve
The binding energy curve is obtained by dividing the total nuclear binding energy by the number of nucleons. The fact that there is a peak in the binding energy curve in the region of stability near iron means that either the breakup of heavier nuclei (fission) or the combining of lighter nuclei (fusion) will yield nuclei which are more tightly bound (less mass per nucleon).
The binding energies of nucleons are in the range of millions of electron volts compared to tens of eV for atomic electrons. Whereas an atomic transition might emit a photon in the range of a few electron volts, perhaps in the visible light region, nuclear transitions can emit gamma-rays with quantum energies in the MeV range.
The iron limit:
The buildup of heavier elements in the nuclear fusion processes in stars is limited to elements below iron, since the fusion of iron would subtract energy rather than provide it. Iron-56 is abundant in stellar processes, and with a binding energy per nucleon of 8.8 MeV, it is the third most tightly bound of the nuclides. Its average binding energy per nucleon is exceeded only by 58Fe and 62Ni, the nickel isotope being the most tightly bound of the nuclides.
Nuclear fission concepts
Nuclear fusion concepts