Plutonium-241

Summary

Plutonium-241 (241Pu or Pu-241) is an isotope of plutonium formed when plutonium-240 captures a neutron. Like some other plutonium isotopes (especially 239Pu), 241Pu is fissile, with a neutron absorption cross section about one-third greater than that of 239Pu, and a similar probability of fissioning on neutron absorption, around 73%. In the non-fission case, neutron capture produces plutonium-242. In general, isotopes with an odd number of neutrons are both more likely to absorb a neutron, and more likely to undergo fission on neutron absorption, than isotopes with an even number of neutrons.

Plutonium-241, 241Pu
General
Symbol241Pu
Namesplutonium-241, Pu-241
Protons (Z)94
Neutrons (N)147
Nuclide data
Natural abundance0 (Artificial)
Half-life (t1/2)14 years
Isotope mass241.057 Da
Decay products241Am
Decay modes
Decay modeDecay energy (MeV)
β−0.0208 [1]
Isotopes of plutonium
Complete table of nuclides

Decay to americiumEdit

Actinides[2] by decay chain Half-life
range (a)
Fission products of 235U by yield[3]
4n 4n + 1 4n + 2 4n + 3 4.5–7% 0.04–1.25% <0.001%
228Ra 4–6 a 155Euþ
244Cmƒ 241Puƒ 250Cf 227Ac 10–29 a 90Sr 85Kr 113mCdþ
232Uƒ 238Puƒ 243Cmƒ 29–97 a 137Cs 151Smþ 121mSn
248Bk[4] 249Cfƒ 242mAmƒ 141–351 a

No fission products have a half-life in the range of 100 a–210 ka ...

241Amƒ 251Cfƒ[5] 430–900 a
226Ra 247Bk 1.3–1.6 ka
240Pu 229Th 246Cmƒ 243Amƒ 4.7–7.4 ka
245Cmƒ 250Cm 8.3–8.5 ka
239Puƒ 24.1 ka
230Th 231Pa 32–76 ka
236Npƒ 233Uƒ 234U 150–250 ka 99Tc 126Sn
248Cm 242Pu 327–375 ka 79Se
1.53 Ma 93Zr
237Npƒ 2.1–6.5 Ma 135Cs 107Pd
236U 247Cmƒ 15–24 Ma 129I
244Pu 80 Ma

... nor beyond 15.7 Ma[6]

232Th 238U 235Uƒ№ 0.7–14.1 Ga
 

241Pu has a half-life of 14 years, corresponding to a decay of about 5% of 241Pu nuclei over a one-year period. The longer spent nuclear fuel waits before reprocessing, the more 241Pu decays to americium-241, which is nonfissile (although fissionable by fast neutrons) and an alpha emitter with a halflife of 432 years; 241Am is a major contributor to the radioactivity of nuclear waste on a scale of hundreds or thousands of years.

Americium has lower valence and lower electronegativity than plutonium, neptunium or uranium, so in most nuclear reprocessing, Am tends to fractionate not with U, Np, or Pu, but with the alkaline fission products: lanthanides, strontium, caesium, barium, yttrium, and is therefore not recycled into nuclear fuel unless special efforts are made.

In a thermal reactor, 241Am captures a neutron to become americium-242, which quickly becomes curium-242 (or, 17.3% of the time, 242Pu) via beta decay. Both 242Cm and 242Pu are much less likely to absorb a neutron, and even less likely to fission; however, 242Cm is short-lived (half-life 160 days) and almost always undergoes alpha decay to 238Pu rather than capturing another neutron. In short, 241Am needs to absorb two neutrons before again becoming a fissile isotope.

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Table de Radionucleides Pu-241, Laboratoire National Henri Becquerel
  2. ^ Plus radium (element 88). While actually a sub-actinide, it immediately precedes actinium (89) and follows a three-element gap of instability after polonium (84) where no nuclides have half-lives of at least four years (the longest-lived nuclide in the gap is radon-222 with a half life of less than four days). Radium's longest lived isotope, at 1,600 years, thus merits the element's inclusion here.
  3. ^ Specifically from thermal neutron fission of uranium-235, e.g. in a typical nuclear reactor.
  4. ^ Milsted, J.; Friedman, A. M.; Stevens, C. M. (1965). "The alpha half-life of berkelium-247; a new long-lived isomer of berkelium-248". Nuclear Physics. 71 (2): 299. Bibcode:1965NucPh..71..299M. doi:10.1016/0029-5582(65)90719-4.
    "The isotopic analyses disclosed a species of mass 248 in constant abundance in three samples analysed over a period of about 10 months. This was ascribed to an isomer of Bk248 with a half-life greater than 9 [years]. No growth of Cf248 was detected, and a lower limit for the β half-life can be set at about 104 [years]. No alpha activity attributable to the new isomer has been detected; the alpha half-life is probably greater than 300 [years]."
  5. ^ This is the heaviest nuclide with a half-life of at least four years before the "sea of instability".
  6. ^ Excluding those "classically stable" nuclides with half-lives significantly in excess of 232Th; e.g., while 113mCd has a half-life of only fourteen years, that of 113Cd is nearly eight quadrillion years.