Neutron Capture

Before we talk any further about fission it is useful to have a look at what other things can happen to the neutrons. One thing that can happen is that they can be captured by a nucleus. The atom that captures the neutron remains the same element (since the atomic number remains the same) but the atomic mass increases by one. The new isotope that is formed is not necessarily stable and often undergoes radioactive decay. An example is the capture of a neutron by Uranium 238 which is converted to uranium 239 which undergoes decay to Neptunium 239 which then undergoes decay to Plutonium 239

Uranium Neutron Capture

Before we talk any further about fission it is useful to have a look at what other things can happen to the neutrons. One thing that can happen is that they can be captured by a nucleus. The atom that captures the neutron remains the same element (since the atomic number remains the same) but the atomic mass increases by one. The new isotope that is formed is not necessarily stable and often undergoes radioactive decay. An example is the capture of a neutron by Uranium 238 which is converted to uranium 239 which undergoes decay to Neptunium 239 which then undergoes decay to Plutonium 239

Plutonium 239 can undergo fission and release energy. Since Uranium 238 is present along with Uranium 235 in nuclear fuel then Plutonium-239 is always produced in a nuclear reactor. The fission of this Plutonium is responsible for about 30% of the power of current nuclear power stations.


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