Decay product

In nuclear physics, a decay product (also known as a daughter product, daughter isotope, radio-daughter, or daughter nuclide) is the remaining nuclide left over from radioactive decay. Radioactive decay often proceeds via a sequence of steps (decay chain). For example, 238U decays to 234Th which decays to 234mPa which decays, and so on, to 206Pb (which is stable):

In this example:

  • 234Th, 234mPa,…,206Pb are the decay products of 238U.
  • 234Th is the daughter of the parent 238U.
  • 234mPa (234 metastable) is the granddaughter of 238U.

These might also be referred to as the daughter products of 238U.[1]

Decay products are important in understanding radioactive decay and the management of radioactive waste.

For elements above lead in atomic number, the decay chain typically ends with an isotope of lead or bismuth. Bismuth itself decays to thallium, but the decay is so slow as to be practically negligible.

In many cases, individual members of the decay chain are as radioactive as the parent, but far smaller in volume/mass. Thus, although uranium is not dangerously radioactive when pure, some pieces of naturally occurring pitchblende are quite dangerous owing to their radium-226 content, which is soluble and not a ceramic like the parent. Similarly, thorium gas mantles are very slightly radioactive when new, but become more radioactive after only a few months of storage as the daughters of 232Th build up.

Although it cannot be predicted whether any given atom of a radioactive substance will decay at any given time, the decay products of a radioactive substance are extremely predictable. Because of this, decay products are important to scientists in many fields who need to know the quantity or type of the parent product. Such studies are done to measure pollution levels (in and around nuclear facilities) and for other matters.

Thorium decay chain from lead-212 to lead-208
The decay chain from lead-212 down to lead-208, showing the intermediate decay products.

See also

References

  1. ^ Glossary of Volume 7 (Depleted Uranium — authors: Naomi H. Harley, Ernest C. Foulkes, Lee H. Hilborne, Arlene Hudson, and C. Ross Anthony) of A review of the scientific literature as it pertains to gulf war illnesses.
Bottom quark

The bottom quark or b quark, also known as the beauty quark, is a third-generation quark with a charge of −1/3 e.

All quarks are described in a similar way by electroweak and quantum chromodynamics, but the bottom quark has exceptionally low rates of transition to lower-mass quarks. The bottom quark is also notable because it is a product in almost all top quark decays, and is a frequent decay product of the Higgs boson.

Isotopes of barium

Naturally occurring barium (56Ba) is a mix of six stable isotopes and one very long-lived radioactive primordial isotope, barium-130, recently identified as being unstable by geochemical means (from analysis of the presence of its daughter xenon-130 in rocks). This nuclide decays by double-electron capture (absorbing two electrons and emitting two neutrinos); with a half-life of (0.5–2.7)×1021 years (about 1011 times the age of the universe).

There are a total of thirty-three known radioisotopes in addition to 130Ba, but most of these are highly radioactive with half-lives in the several millisecond to several minute range. The only notable exceptions are 133Ba, which has a half-life of 10.51 years, 131Ba (11.5 days), and 137mBa (2.55 minutes), which is the decay product of 137Cs (30.17 years, and a common fission product).

Barium-114 is predicted to undergo cluster decay, emitting a nucleus of stable 12C to produce 102Sn. However this decay is not yet observed; the upper limit on the branching ratio of such decay is 0.0034%.

Isotopes of chromium

Naturally occurring chromium (24Cr) is composed of four stable isotopes; 50Cr, 52Cr, 53Cr, and 54Cr with 52Cr being the most abundant (83.789% natural abundance). 50Cr is suspected of decaying by β+β+ to 50Ti with a half-life of (more than) 1.8×1017 years. Twenty-two radioisotopes, all of which are entirely synthetic, have been characterized with the most stable being 51Cr with a half-life of 27.7 days. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 24 hours and the majority of these have half-lives that are less than 1 minute, the least stable being 66Cr with a half-life of 10 milliseconds. This element also has 2 meta states, 45mCr, the more stable one, and 59mCr, the least stable isotope or isomer.

53Cr is the radiogenic decay product of 53Mn. Chromium isotopic contents are typically combined with manganese isotopic contents and have found application in isotope geology. Mn-Cr isotope ratios reinforce the evidence from 26Al and 107Pd for the early history of the solar system. Variations in 53Cr/52Cr and Mn/Cr ratios from several meteorites indicate an initial 53Mn/55Mn ratio that suggests Mn-Cr isotope systematics must result from in-situ decay of 53Mn in differentiated planetary bodies. Hence 53Cr provides additional evidence for nucleosynthetic processes immediately before coalescence of the solar system. The same isotope is preferentially involved in certain leaching reactions, thereby allowing its abundance in seawater sediments to be used as a proxy for atmospheric oxygen concentrations.The isotopes of chromium range from 42Cr to 67Cr. The primary decay mode before the most abundant stable isotope, 52Cr, is electron capture and the primary mode after is beta decay.

Isotopes of darmstadtium

Darmstadtium (110Ds) is a synthetic element, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. Like all synthetic elements, it has no stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized was 269Ds in 1994. There are 9 known radioisotopes from 267Ds to 281Ds (with many gaps) and 2 or 3 known isomers. The longest-lived isotope is 281Ds with a half-life of 9.6 seconds.

Isotopes of francium

Francium (87Fr) has no stable isotopes. A standard atomic weight cannot be given. Its most stable isotope is 223Fr with a half-life of 22 minutes, occurring in trace quantities as an intermediate decay product of 235U.

Of elements whose most stable isotopes have been identified with certainty, francium is the most unstable. All elements with atomic number of greater than or equal to 106 (seaborgium) have most-stable-known isotopes shorter than that of francium, but those elements have only a relatively small number of isotopes discovered, thus, there is the possibility of a yet-unknown isotope having a longer half-life.

Isotopes of lead

Lead (82Pb) has four stable isotopes: 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb, 208Pb. Lead-204 is entirely a primordial nuclide and is not a radiogenic nuclide. The three isotopes lead-206, lead-207, and lead-208 represent the ends of three decay chains: the uranium series (or radium series), the actinium series, and the thorium series, respectively; a fourth decay chain, the neptunium series, terminates with a thallium isotope. The three series terminating in lead represent the decay chain products of long-lived primordial U-238, U-235, and Th-232, respectively. However, each of them also occurs, to some extent, as primordial isotopes that were made in supernovae, rather than radiogenically as daughter products. The fixed ratio of lead-204 to the primordial amounts of the other lead isotopes may be used as the baseline to estimate the extra amounts of radiogenic lead present in rocks as a result of decay from uranium and thorium. (See lead-lead dating and uranium-lead dating).

The longest-lived radioisotopes are 205Pb with a half-life of ≈15.3 million years and 202Pb with a half-life of ≈53,000 years. Of naturally occurring radioisotopes, the longest half-life is 22.3 years for 210Pb, which is useful for studying the sedimentation chronology of environmental samples on time scales shorter than 100 years.The relative abundances of the four stable isotopes are approximately 1.5%, 24%, 22%, and 52.5%, combining to give a standard atomic weight (abundance-weighted average of the stable isotopes) of 207.2(1). Lead is the element with the heaviest stable isotope, 208Pb. (The more massive 209Bi, long considered to be stable, actually has a half-life of 1.9×1019 years). A total of 38 Pb isotopes are now known, including very unstable synthetic species.

In its fully ionized state the isotope 205Pb also becomes stable.

Isotopes of livermorium

Livermorium (116Lv) is an artificial element, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. Like all artificial elements, it has no stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized was 293Lv in 2000. There are four known radioisotopes from 290Lv to 293Lv, as well as a few suggestive indications of a possible heavier isotope 294Lv. The longest-lived of the four well-characterised isotopes is 293Lv with a half-life of 53 ms.

Isotopes of neptunium

Neptunium (93Np) is usually considered an artificial element, although trace quantities are found in nature, so a standard atomic weight cannot be given. Like all trace or artificial elements, it has no stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized and identified was 239Np in 1940, produced by bombarding 238U with neutrons to produce 239U, which then underwent beta decay to 239Np.

Trace quantities are found in nature from neutron capture reactions by uranium atoms, a fact not discovered until 1951.

Twenty-three neptunium radioisotopes have been characterized, with the most stable being 237Np with a half-life of 2.14 million years, 236Np with a half-life of 154,000 years, and 235Np with a half-life of 396.1 days. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 4.5 days, and the majority of these have half-lives that are less than 50 minutes. This element also has 4 meta states, with the most stable being 236mNp (t1/2 22.5 hours).

The isotopes of neptunium range from 219Np to 244Np, though the intermediate isotopes 220-222Np have not yet been observed. The primary decay mode before the most stable isotope, 237Np, is electron capture (with a good deal of alpha emission), and the primary mode after is beta emission. The primary decay products before 237Np are isotopes of uranium and protactinium, and the primary products after are isotopes of plutonium. Uranium-237 and neptunium-239 are regarded as the leading hazardous radioisotopes in the first hour-to-week period following nuclear fallout from a nuclear detonation, with Np-239 dominating "the spectrum for several days".

Isotopes of nihonium

Nihonium (113Nh) is a synthetic element. Being synthetic, a standard atomic weight cannot be given and like all artificial elements, it has no stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized was 284Nh as a decay product of 288Mc in 2003. The first isotope to be directly synthesized was 278Nh in 2004. There are 6 known radioisotopes from 278Nh to 286Nh, along with the unconfirmed 290Nh. The longest-lived isotope is 286Nh with a half-life of 8 seconds.

Isotopes of palladium

Naturally occurring palladium (46Pd) is composed of six stable isotopes, 102Pd, 104Pd, 105Pd, 106Pd, 108Pd, and 110Pd, although 102Pd and 110Pd are theoretically unstable. The most stable radioisotopes are 107Pd with a half-life of 6.5 million years, 103Pd with a half-life of 17 days, and 100Pd with a half-life of 3.63 days. Twenty-three other radioisotopes have been characterized with atomic weights ranging from 90.949 u (91Pd) to 123.937 u (124Pd). Most of these have half-lives that are less than a half an hour except 101Pd (half-life: 8.47 hours), 109Pd (half-life: 13.7 hours), and 112Pd (half-life: 21 hours).

The primary decay mode before the most abundant stable isotope, 106Pd, is electron capture and the primary mode after is beta decay. The primary decay product before 106Pd is rhodium and the primary product after is silver.

Radiogenic 107Ag is a decay product of 107Pd and was first discovered in the Santa Clara meteorite of 1978. The discoverers suggest that the coalescence and differentiation of iron-cored small planets may have occurred 10 million years after a nucleosynthetic event. 107Pd versus Ag correlations observed in bodies, which have clearly been melted since accretion of the solar system, must reflect the presence of short-lived nuclides in the early solar system.

Isotopes of protactinium

Protactinium (91Pa) has no stable isotopes. The three naturally occurring isotopes allow a standard mass to be given.

Twenty-nine radioisotopes of protactinium have been characterized, with the most stable being 231Pa with a half-life of 32,760 years, 233Pa with a half-life of 26.967 days, and 230Pa with a half-life of 17.4 days. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives less than 1.6 days, and the majority of these have half-lives less than 1.8 seconds. This element also has five meta states, 217mPa (t1/2 1.15 milliseconds), 220m1Pa (t1/2 308 nanoseconds), 220m2Pa (t1/2 69 nanoseconds), 229mPa (t1/2 420 nanoseconds), and 234mPa (t1/2 1.17 minutes).

The only naturally occurring isotopes are 231Pa, which occurs as an intermediate decay product of 235U, 234Pa and 234mPa, both of which occur as intermediate decay products of 238U. 231Pa makes up nearly all natural protactinium.

The primary decay mode for isotopes of Pa lighter than (and including) the most stable isotope 231Pa is alpha decay, except for 228Pa to 230Pa, which primarily decay by electron capture to isotopes of thorium. The primary mode for the heavier isotopes is beta minus (β−) decay. The primary decay products of 231Pa and isotopes of protactinium lighter than and including 227Pa are isotopes of actinium and the primary decay products for the heavier isotopes of protactinium are isotopes of uranium.

Isotopes of roentgenium

Roentgenium (111Rg) is a synthetic element, and thus a standard atomic weight cannot be given. Like all synthetic elements, it has no stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized was 272Rg in 1994, which is also the only directly synthesized isotope; all others are decay products of nihonium, moscovium, and tennessine, and possibly copernicium, flerovium, and livermorium. There are 7 known radioisotopes from 272Rg to 282Rg. The longest-lived isotope is 282Rg with a half-life of 2.1 minutes, although the unconfirmed 283Rg and 286Rg may have a longer half-life of about 5.1 minutes and 10.7 minutes respectively.

Isotopes of thallium

Thallium (81Tl) has 37 isotopes with atomic masses that range from 176 to 212. 203Tl and 205Tl are the only stable isotopes and 204Tl is the most stable radioisotope with a half-life of 3.78 years. 207Tl, with a half-life of 4.77 minutes, has the longest half-life of naturally occurring radioisotopes.

Thallium-202 (half-life 12.23 days) can be made in a cyclotron while thallium-204 (half-life 3.78 years) is made by the neutron activation of stable thallium in a nuclear reactor.In the fully ionized state, the isotope 205Tl becomes beta-radioactive, decaying to 205Pb, but 203Tl remains stable.

Isotopes of uranium

Uranium (92U) is a naturally occurring radioactive element that has no stable isotopes but two primordial isotopes (uranium-238 and uranium-235) that have long half-lives and are found in appreciable quantity in the Earth's crust, along with the decay product uranium-234. The standard atomic weight of natural uranium is 238.02891(3). Other isotopes such as uranium-232 have been produced in breeder reactors.

Naturally occurring uranium is composed of three major isotopes, uranium-238 (99.2739–99.2752% natural abundance), uranium-235 (0.7198–0.7202%), and uranium-234 (0.0050–0.0059%). All three isotopes are radioactive, creating radioisotopes, with the most abundant and stable being uranium-238 with a half-life of 4.4683×109 years (close to the age of the Earth).

Uranium-238 is an α emitter, decaying through the 18-member uranium series into lead-206. The decay series of uranium-235 (historically called actino-uranium) has 15 members that ends in lead-207. The constant rates of decay in these series makes comparison of the ratios of parent to daughter elements useful in radiometric dating. Uranium-233 is made from thorium-232 by neutron bombardment.

The isotope uranium-235 is important for both nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons because it is the only isotope existing in nature to any appreciable extent that is fissile, that is, can be broken apart by thermal neutrons. The isotope uranium-238 is also important because it absorbs neutrons to produce a radioactive isotope that subsequently decays to the isotope plutonium-239, which also is fissile.

Radium Hot Springs

Radium Hot Springs, informally and commonly called Radium, is a village of 776 residents situated in the East Kootenay region of British Columbia. The village is named for the hot springs located in the nearby Kootenay National Park. From Banff, Alberta, it is accessible via Highway 93.

The hot springs were named after the radioactive element when an analysis of the water showed that it contained small traces of radon which is a decay product of radium. The radiation dosage from bathing in the pools is inconsequential; approximately 0.13 millirems (1.3 μSv) from the water for a half-hour bathing, around ten times average background levels. The air concentration of radon is about 23 picocuries (0.85 Bq) per litre which is higher than the level (4 picocuries per litre) at which mitigation is necessary at residences; but is also inconsequential (about 0.7 mrem or 7.0 μSv for a half-hour bathing) from a dose impact perspective.

Radium and radon in the environment

Radium and radon are important contributors to environmental radioactivity. Radon occurs naturally in the environment as a result of decay of radioactive elements in the soil and it can accumulate in houses built on areas where such decay occurs. This radon is among major causes of cancer, estimated to contribute to about 2% of all cancer related deaths in Europe.Radium, like radon, is a radioactive element and it is found in small quantities in nature and may thus be hazardous to life if concentrated. Radium has its origins as a decay product of certain isotopes of uranium and thorium. Radium may also be released to the environment as a result of human activity, for example, in inproperly discarded products painted with radioluminescent paint.

Technetium-99m generator

A technetium-99m generator, or colloquially a technetium cow or moly cow, is a device used to extract the metastable isotope 99mTc of technetium from a source of decaying molybdenum-99. 99Mo has a half-life of 66 hours and can be easily transported over long distances to hospitals where its decay product technetium-99m (with a half-life of only 6 hours, inconvenient for transport) is extracted and used for a variety of nuclear medicine diagnostic procedures, where its short half-life is very useful.

Uranium-234

Uranium-234 is an isotope of uranium. In natural uranium and in uranium ore, U-234 occurs as an indirect decay product of uranium-238, but it makes up only 0.0055% (55 parts per million) of the raw uranium because its half-life of just 245,500 years is only about 1/18,000 as long as that of U-238. The primary path of production of U-234 via nuclear decay is as follows: U-238 nuclei emit an alpha particle to become thorium-234 (Th-234). Next, with a short half-life, Th-234 nuclei emit a beta particle to become protactinium-234 (Pa-234), or more likely a nuclear isomer denoted Pa-234m. Finally, Pa-234 or Pa-234m nuclei emit another beta particle to become U-234 nuclei.

U-234 nuclei decay by alpha emission to thorium-230, except for the tiny fraction (parts per billion) of nuclei which undergo spontaneous fission.

Extraction of rather small amounts of U-234 from natural uranium would be feasible using isotope separation, similar to that used for regular uranium-enrichment. However, there is no real demand in chemistry, physics, or engineering for isolating U-234. Very small pure samples of U-234 can be extracted via the chemical ion-exchange process - from samples of plutonium-238 that have been aged somewhat to allow some decay to U-234 via alpha emission.

Enriched uranium contains more U-234 than natural uranium as a byproduct of the uranium enrichment process aimed at obtaining U-235, which concentrates lighter isotopes even more strongly than it does U-235. The increased percentage of U-234 in enriched natural uranium is acceptable in current nuclear reactors, but (re-enriched) reprocessed uranium might contain even higher fractions of U-234, which is undesirable. This is because U-234 is not fissile, and tends to absorb slow neutrons in a nuclear reactor - becoming U-235.

U-234 has a neutron-capture cross section of about 100 barns for thermal neutrons, and about 700 barns for its resonance integral - the average over neutrons having various intermediate energies. In a nuclear reactor non-fissile isotopes capture a neutron breeding fissile isotopes. U-234 is converted to U-235 more easily and therefore at a greater rate than U-238 is to Pu-239 (via neptunium-239) because U-238 has a much smaller neutron-capture cross-section of just 2.7 barns.

However, (n, 2n) reactions with fast neutrons also convert small amounts of U-235 to U-234, so that spent nuclear fuel may contain about 0.010% U-234, a much higher fraction than in non-irradiated uranium.Depleted uranium contains much less U-234 (around 0.001%) which makes the radioactivity of depleted uranium about one-half of that of natural uranium. Natural uranium has an "equilibrium" concentration of U-234 at the point where an equal number of decays of U-238 and U-234 will occur.

Uranium–thorium dating

Uranium–thorium dating, also called thorium-230 dating, uranium-series disequilibrium dating or uranium-series dating, is a radiometric dating technique established in the 1960s which has been used since the 1970s to determine the age of calcium carbonate materials such as speleothem or coral. Unlike other commonly used radiometric dating techniques such as rubidium–strontium or uranium–lead dating, the uranium-thorium technique does not measure accumulation of a stable end-member decay product. Instead, it calculates an age from the degree to which secular equilibrium has been restored between the radioactive isotope thorium-230 and its radioactive parent uranium-234 within a sample.

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