Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Decay of 238U

  1. May 9, 2006 #1
    why doesnt 238U decay spontaneously by emitting a proton?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2006 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Good question!

    The principal modes of nuclear decay, particularly for heavy elements are gamma (EM), beta (electron) and alpha (2p,2n = 4He nucleus).

    One could do a binding energy calculation to see which reaction, p or alpha emission, dumps the most energy, i.e. which one is more 'spontaneous'. One more readily observes photoneutron emission rather than photoproton emission.

    The absence of proton emission implies that the proton is more tightly bound in nuclei.

    Even spontaneous fission in some transuranic nuclei is preferred to proton emission.

    Photoproton emission requires fairly high thresholds.
    Last edited: May 10, 2006
  4. May 10, 2006 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The reaction doesn't happen because it is prevented by energy concerns. In short, a proton and a Pa237 atom weigh more than a U238 atom:

    Pa237: 237.0511

    H1: 1.0078

    Sum: 238.0589

    compare to:

    U238: 238.0508


    [Edit: Thanks to Astronuc for pointing out that Pa237 should be used instead of U237.]
    Last edited: May 10, 2006
  5. May 10, 2006 #4


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Ha, actually, it was the checking of neutron and proton driplines some years ago the thing that got me off from my mathematical cushions into pesky phenomenology. Empirically it can be seen that the stability line, where usual isotopes live, is exactly middle way between the proton and neutron driplines. This is, the number of protons you must remove from a stable isotope to make it neutron unstable is about the same that the number of protons you remove to drive it neutron unstable. Or something so. The moral is that long living atoms (as existing U atoms are) live far from the driplines.

    Ah, and obviously, the more neutrons you add, the more you escape from the proton dripline. So if U235 does not like proton decay, bet that U238 will not be better.
    Last edited: May 10, 2006
  6. May 10, 2006 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    My favorite reaction, as for energy concerns it concerns, is Hg201 to alpha + Pt197 and then Pt197 decays beta. Someone should use it in a film script. Lot better than Davinci code stuff.

    EDITED: Ok, Uranium fission gives us about 200 MeV, while here we get slightly a bit more than 1 MeV, and adding both reactions. But it is enough for a heater to work. :smile:
    Last edited: May 10, 2006
  7. May 12, 2006 #6
    what r proton and neutron driplines?
  8. May 12, 2006 #7
    The proton dripline is where a proton heavy nucleus has too many protons to prevent another proton from binding to the nucleus. It's the limit to potential isotopes on the proton heavy side. The neutron dripline is similar to proton dripline, forming a limit to potential neutron heavy isotopes. I'm not really sure what limits neutrons from 'glomming' onto an already neutron heavy nucleus.

    Hopefully someone can expand on my limited knowledge of the subject.
  9. May 12, 2006 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Check the chart of nuclides, and look at which isotopes are stable. Too many or too few neutrons produces nuclei which decay to a more stable configuration.


    http://wwwndc.tokai-sc.jaea.go.jp/CN04/index.html [Broken]

    In particular, look at http://wwwndc.tokai-sc.jaea.go.jp/CN04/CN003.html [Broken]

    Ca-40 is the last stable nuclide for which P=N, where P = number of protons and N = number of neutrons.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Decay of 238U
  1. Higgs Decay (Replies: 5)

  2. Decay and atoms (Replies: 2)

  3. Beta+ Decay (Replies: 15)

  4. Decay Width (Replies: 1)