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Isotopes of plutonium
Plutonium (Pu) has no stable isotopes. A standard atomic mass cannot be given.
Additional recommended knowledge
Older names for plutonium:
Twenty plutonium radioisotopes have been characterized. The most stable are Pu-244, with a half-life of 80.8 million years, Pu-242, with a half-life of 373,300 years, and Pu-239, with a half-life of 24,110 years. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 7,000 years. This element also has eight meta states, though none are very stable (all have half-lives less than one second).
The isotopes of plutonium range in atomic weight from 228.0387 u (Pu-228) to 247.074 u (Pu-247). The primary decay modes before the most stable isotope, Pu-244, are spontaneous fission and alpha emission; the primary mode after is beta emission. The primary decay products before Pu-244 are uranium and neptunium isotopes (neglecting the wide range of daughter nuclei created by fission processes), and the primary products after are americium isotopes.
Production and uses
Pu-239, a fissile isotope which is the second most used nuclear fuel in nuclear reactors after U-235, and the most used fuel in the fission portion of nuclear weapons, is produced from U-238 by neutron capture followed by two beta decays.
Pu-240, Pu-241, Pu-242 are produced by further neutron capture. The odd-mass isotopes Pu-239 and Pu-241 have about a 3/4 chance of undergoing fission on capture of a thermal neutron and about a 1/4 chance of retaining the neutron and becoming the following isotope. The even-mass isotopes are not fissile and also have a lower overall probability (cross section) of neutron capture; therefore, they tend to accumulate in nuclear fuel used in a thermal reactor, the design of all nuclear power plants today. In plutonium that has been used a second time in thermal reactors in MOX fuel, Pu-240 may even be the most common isotope. All plutonium isotopes and other actinides, however, are fissionable with fast neutrons.
Pu-241 has a halflife of 14 years. While nuclear fuel is being used in a reactor, a Pu-241 nucleus is much more likely to fission or to capture a neutron than to decay. However, in spent nuclear fuel that is cooled for decades after use, much or most of the Pu-241 will beta decay to americium-241, one of the minor actinides and less fissionable.
Pu-243 has a halflife of only 5 hours, beta decaying to americium-243. Because Pu-243 has little opportunity to capture an additional neutron before decay, the nuclear fuel cycle does not produce long-lived Pu-244 in significant quantity.
Pu-238 is not normally produced in as large quantity by the nuclear fuel cycle, but some is produced from neptunium-237 by neutron capture (this reaction can also be used with purified neptunium to produce Pu-238 relatively free of other plutonium isotopes for use in radioisotope thermoelectric generators), by the (n,2n) reaction on Pu-239, or by alpha decay of curium-242 which is produced by neutron capture from Am-241.
Pu-240 as obstacle to nuclear weapons
Pu-240 undergoes spontaneous fission as a secondary decay mode at a small but significant rate. The presence of Pu-240 limits the plutonium's nuclear bomb potential because the neutron flux from spontaneous fission, initiates the chain reaction prematurely and reduces the bomb's power by exploding the core before full implosion is reached. Plutonium consisting of more than about 90% Pu-239 is called weapons-grade plutonium; plutonium from spent nuclear fuel from commercial power reactors generally contains at least 20% Pu-240 and is called reactor-grade plutonium. However, modern nuclear weapons use fusion boosting which mitigates the predetonation problem; if the pit can generate a nuclear weapon yield of even a fraction of a kiloton, which is enough to start deuterium-tritium fusion, the resulting burst of neutrons will fission enough plutonium to ensure a yield of tens of kilotons.
Pu-240 contamination is the reason plutonium weapons must use the implosion method. Theoretically, pure Pu-239 could be used in a gun-type nuclear weapon, but achieving this level of purity is prohibitively difficult. Pu-240 contamination has proven a mixed blessing to nuclear weapons design. While it created delays and headaches during the Manhattan Project because of the need to develop implosion technology, those very same difficulties are currently a barrier to nuclear proliferation. Implosion devices are also inherently more efficient and less prone toward accidental detonation than are gun-type weapons.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Isotopes_of_plutonium". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|