Plutonium-242, 242Pu
Namesplutonium-242, Pu-242
Nuclide data
Half-life375,000 years
Decay productsU
Isotope mass242.059 u
Decay modes
Decay modeDecay energy (MeV)
Isotopes of plutonium
Complete table of nuclides
Actinides[1] by decay chain Half-life
range (a)
Fission products of 235U by yield[2]
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[3] 249Cfƒ 242mAmƒ 141–351 a

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

241Amƒ 251Cfƒ[4] 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[5]

232Th 238U 235Uƒ№ 0.7–14.1 Ga

Legend for superscript symbols
₡  has thermal neutron capture cross section in the range of 8–50 barns
ƒ  fissile
metastable isomer
№  primarily a naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM)
þ  neutron poison (thermal neutron capture cross section greater than 3k barns)
†  range 4–97 a: Medium-lived fission product
‡  over 200 ka: Long-lived fission product

Plutonium-242 (242Pu) is one of the isotopes of plutonium, the second longest-lived, with a half-life of 375,000 years. The half-life of 242Pu is about 15 times longer than that of 239Pu; therefore, it is one-fifteenth as radioactive, and not one of the larger contributors to nuclear waste radioactivity. 242Pu's gamma ray emissions are also weaker than those of the other isotopes.[6]

It is not fissile (though it is fissionable by fast neutrons) and its neutron capture cross section is also low.

In the nuclear fuel cycle

Transmutation flow in LWR

Plutonium-242 is produced by successive neutron capture on 239Pu, 240Pu, and 241Pu. The odd-mass isotopes 239Pu and 241Pu 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 proportion of 242Pu is low at low burnup but increases nonlinearly.

Plutonium-242 has a particularly low cross section for thermal neutron capture; and it takes three neutron absorptions to become another fissile isotope (either curium-245 or plutonium-241) and then one more neutron to undergo fission. Even then, there is a chance either of those two fissile isotopes will absorb the fourth neutron instead of fissioning, becoming curium-246 (on the way to even heavier actinides like californium, which is a neutron emitter by spontaneous fission and difficult to handle) or becoming 242Pu again; so the mean number of neutrons absorbed until fission is even higher than 4. Therefore, 242Pu is particularly unsuited to recycling in a thermal reactor and would be better used in a fast reactor where it can be fissioned directly. However, 242Pu's low cross section means that relatively little of it will be transmuted during one cycle in a thermal reactor.


Plutonium-242 primarily decays into uranium-238 via alpha decay, before continuing along the uranium series. Plutonium-242 will occasionally decay via spontaneous fission with a rate of 5.5 × 10−4%.[7]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Specifically from thermal neutron fission of uranium-235, e.g. in a typical nuclear reactor.
  3. ^ 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]."
  4. ^ This is the heaviest nuclide with a half-life of at least four years before the "Sea of Instability".
  5. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Chart of all nuclei which includes half life and mode of decay