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Neptunium (pronounced /nɛpˈtjuːniəm/) is a chemical element with the symbol Np and atomic number 93. A silvery radioactive metallic element, neptunium is the first transuranic element and belongs to the actinide series. Its most stable isotope, 237Np, is a by-product of nuclear reactors and plutonium production and it can be used as a component in neutron detection equipment. Neptunium is also found in trace amounts in uranium ores.
Silvery in appearance, neptunium metal is fairly chemically reactive and is found in at least three structural modifications:
This element has four ionic oxidation states while in solution:
Neptunium like other actinides readily forms a dioxide neptunyl core (NpO2). In the environment, this neptunyl core readily complexes with carbonate as well as other oxygen moieties (OH-, NO2-, NO3-, and SO4-2) to form charged complexes which tend to be readily mobile with low affinities to soil.
Precursor in Plutonium-238 Production
237Np is irradiated with neutrons to create 238Pu, a rare and valuable isotope for spacecraft and military applications.
Neptunium is fissionable, and could theoretically be used as reactor fuel or to create a nuclear weapon. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Energy declassified the statement that Np-237 "can be used for a nuclear explosive device". It is not believed that an actual weapon has ever been constructed using neptunium.
In September 2002, researchers at the University of California Los Alamos National Laboratory created the first known nuclear critical mass using neptunium in combination with enriched uranium, discovering that the critical mass of neptunium is less than previously predicted. US officials in March 2008, planned to move the nation's supply of separated neptunium to a site in Nevada.
Neptunium (named for the planet Neptune, the next planet out from Uranus, after which uranium was named) was first discovered by Edwin McMillan and Philip H. Abelson in the year 1940 in Berkeley, California. Initially predicted by Walter Russell's "spiral" organization of the periodic table, it was found at the Berkeley Radiation Laboratory of the University of California, Berkeley where the team produced the neptunium isotope 239Np (2.4 day half-life) by bombarding uranium with slow moving neutrons. It was the first transuranium element produced synthetically and the first actinide series transuranium element discovered.
Trace amounts of neptunium are found naturally as decay products from transmutation reactions in uranium ores. 237Np is produced through the reduction of 237NpF3 with barium or lithium vapor at around 1200 °C and is most often extracted from spent nuclear fuel rods as a by-product in plutonium production.
Since nearly all neptunium is produced in this way or consists of isotopes which decay quickly, one gets nearly pure 237Np by chemical separation of neptunium.
Role in nuclear waste
Neptunium-237 is the most mobile actinide in the deep geological repository environment. This makes it and its predecessors such as americium-241 candidates of interest for destruction by nuclear transmutation.
19 neptunium radioisotopes have been characterized, with the most stable being 237Np with a half-life of 2.14 million years, 236Np with a half-life of 154,000 years, and 235Np with a half-life of 396.1 days. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lifes that are less than 4.5 days, and the majority of these have half lifes that are less than 50 minutes. This element also has 4 meta states, with the most stable being 236mNp (t½ 22.5 hours).
The isotopes of neptunium range in atomic weight from 225.0339 u (225Np) to 244.068 u (244Np). The primary decay mode before the most stable isotope, 237Np, is electron capture (with a good deal of alpha emission), and the primary mode after is beta emission. The primary decay products before 237Np are element 92 (uranium) isotopes (alpha emission produces element 91, protactinium, however) and the primary products after are element 94 (plutonium) isotopes.
Neptunium in Popular Culture
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Neptunium". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|