Uranium-238

10 gram sample
Full table
General
Name, symbol
Uranium-238,
238
U
Neutrons 146
Protons 92
Nuclide data
Natural abundance 99.284%
Half-life 4.468 billion years
Parent isotopes
242
Pu (α)
238
Pa (β

)
Decay products
234
Th
Isotope mass 238.05078826 u
Decay mode Decay energy
Alpha decay 4.267 MeV
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Uranium-238 (
238
U or U-238) is the most common isotope of
uranium found in nature. It is not fissile, but is a fertile material: it
can capture a slow neutron and after two beta decays become fissile
plutonium-239.
238
U is fissionable by fast neutrons, but cannot
support a chain reaction because inelastic scattering reduces neutron
energy below the range where fast fission of one or more
next-generation nuclei is probable. Doppler broadening of U-238's
neutron absorption resonances, increasing absorption as fuel
temperature increases, is also an essential negative feedback
mechanism for reactor control.
Around 99.284% of natural uranium is uranium-238, which has a
half-life of 1.41 × 10
17
seconds (4.468 × 10
9
years, or 4.468 billion
years).
[1]
Depleted uranium has an even higher concentration of the
238
U isotope, and even low-enriched uranium (LEU), while having a
higher proportion of the uranium-235 isotope (in comparison to
depleted uranium), is still mostly
238
U. Reprocessed uranium is also
mainly
238
U, with about as much uranium-235 as natural uranium, a
comparable proportion of uranium-236, and much smaller amounts of
other isotopes of uranium such as uranium-234, uranium-233, and
uranium-232.
[2]
1 Nuclear energy applications
1.1 Breeder reactors
1.2 Radiation shielding
1.3 Downblending
2 Nuclear weapons
3 Radioactivity and decay
4 Radium series (or uranium series)
5 References
6 External links
7 See also
In a fission nuclear reactor, uranium-238 can be used to breed
239
Pu, which itself can be used in a nuclear
weapon or as a nuclear-reactor fuel supply. In a typical nuclear reactor, up to one-third of the generated power
does come from the fission of
239
Pu, which is not supplied as a fuel to the reactor, but rather, produced from
238
U.
Uranium-238 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-238
1 of 6 1.3.2014 21:13
Breeder reactors
238
U is not usable directly as nuclear fuel, though it can produce energy via "fast" fission. In this process, a
neutron that has a kinetic energy in excess of 1 MeV can cause the nucleus of
238
U to split in two. Depending
on design, this process can contribute some one to ten percent of all fission reactions in a reactor, but too few of
the about 1.7 neutrons produced in each fission have enough speed to continue a chain reaction.
238
U can be used as a source material for creating plutonium-239, which can in turn be used as nuclear fuel.
Breeder reactors carry out such a process of transmutation to convert the fertile isotope
238
U into fissile Pu-239.
It has been estimated that there is anywhere from 10,000 to five billion years worth of
238
U for use in these
power plants.
[3]
Breeder technology has been used in several experimental nuclear reactors.
[4]
As of December 2005, the only breeder reactor producing power is the 600-megawatt BN-600 reactor at the
Beloyarsk Nuclear Power Station in Russia. Russia has planned to build another unit, BN-800, at the Beloyarsk
nuclear power plant. Also, Japan's Monju breeder reactor is planned to be started, having been shut down since
1995, and both China and India have announced plans to build nuclear breeder reactors.
The breeder reactor as its name implies creates even larger quantities of Pu-239 than the fission nuclear reactor.
The Clean And Environmentally Safe Advanced Reactor (CAESAR), a nuclear reactor concept that would use
steam as a moderator to control delayed neutrons, will potentially be able to burn
238
U as fuel once the reactor
is started with LEU fuel. This design is still in the early stages of development.
Radiation shielding
238
U is also used as a radiation shield — its alpha radiation is easily stopped by the non-radioactive casing of the
shielding and the uranium's high atomic weight and high number of electrons are highly effective in absorbing
gamma rays and x-rays. It is not as effective as ordinary water for stopping fast neutrons. Both metallic depleted
uranium and depleted uranium dioxide are used for radiation shielding. Uranium is about five times better as a
gamma ray shield than lead, so a shield with the same effectiveness can be packed into a thinner layer.
DUCRETE, a concrete made with uranium dioxide aggregate instead of gravel, is being investigated as a
material for dry cask storage systems to store radioactive waste.
Downblending
The opposite of enriching is downblending. Surplus highly-enriched uranium can be downblended with depleted
uranium or natural uranium to turn it into low enriched uranium suitable for use in commercial nuclear fuel.
238
U from depleted uranium and natural uranium is also used with recycled Pu-239 from nuclear weapons
stockpiles for making mixed oxide fuel (MOX), which is now being redirected to become fuel for nuclear
reactors. This dilution, also called downblending, means that any nation or group that acquired the finished fuel
would have to repeat the very expensive and complex chemical separation of uranium and plutonium process
before assembling a weapon.
Most modern nuclear weapons utilize
238
U as a "tamper" material (see nuclear weapon design). A tamper which
Uranium-238 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-238
2 of 6 1.3.2014 21:13
surrounds a fissile core works to reflect neutrons and to add inertia to the compression of the Pu-239 charge. As
such, it increases the efficiency of the weapon and reduces the critical mass required. In the case of a
thermonuclear weapon
238
U can be used to encase the fusion fuel, the high flux of very energetic neutrons from
the resulting fusion reaction causes
238
U nuclei to split and adds more energy to the "yield" of the weapon. Such
weapons are referred to as fission-fusion-fission weapons after the three consecutive stages of the explosion.
An example of such a weapon is Castle Bravo.
The larger portion of the total explosive yield in this design comes from the final fission stage fueled by
238
U,
producing enormous amounts of radioactive fission products. For example, an estimated 77% of the
10.4-megaton yield of the Ivy Mike thermonuclear test in 1952 came from fast fission of the depleted uranium
tamper. Because depleted uranium has no critical mass, it can be added to thermonuclear bombs in almost
unlimited quantity. The Soviet Union's test of the "Tsar Bomba" in 1961 produced "only" 60 megatons of
explosive power, over 90% of which came from fusion, because the
238
U final stage had been replaced with
lead. Had
238
U been used instead, the yield of the "Tsar Bomba" could have been well-above 100 megatons, and
it would have produced nuclear fallout equivalent to one third of the global total that had been produced up to
that time.
238
U radiates alpha-particles and decays (by way of thorium-234 and protactinium-234) into uranium-234.
234
U
has a half-life of 245,500 years. The relation between
238
U and
234
U gives an indication of the age of sediments
that are between 100,000 years and 1,200,000 years in age.
[5]
238
U occasionally decays by spontaneous fission or double beta decay with probabilities of 5 × 10
−5
and
2 × 10
−10
per 100 alpha decays, respectively.
[6]
The 4n+2 chain of
238
U is commonly called the "radium series" (sometimes "uranium series"). Beginning with
naturally occurring uranium-238, this series includes the following elements: astatine, bismuth, lead, polonium,
protactinium, radium, radon, thallium, and thorium. All are present, at least transiently, in any uranium-
containing sample, whether metal, compound, or mineral.
Uranium-238 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-238
3 of 6 1.3.2014 21:13
Nuclide Historic name (short) Historic name (long) Decay mode Half-life MeV Decay product
238
U
U Uranium α
4.468·10
9
a
4.270
234
Th
234
Th
UX
1
Uranium X1
β
-
24.10 d 0.273
234m
Pa
234m
Pa
UX
2
Uranium X2
β
-
99.84%
IT 0.16%
1.16 min
2.271
0.074
234
U
234
Pa
234
Pa
UZ Uranium Z
β
-
6.70 h 2.197
234
U
234
U
U
II
Uranium two α 245500 a 4.859
230
Th
230
Th
Io Ionium α 75380 a 4.770
226
Ra
226
Ra
Ra Radium α 1602 a 4.871
222
Rn
222
Rn
Rn Radon α 3.8235 d 5.590
218
Po
218
Po
RaA Radium A
α 99.98%
β
-
0.02%
3.10 min
6.115
0.265
214
Pb
218
At
218
At
α 99.90%
β
-
0.10%
1.5 s
6.874
2.883
214
Bi
218
Rn
218
Rn
α 35 ms 7.263
214
Po
214
Pb
RaB Radium B
β
-
26.8 min 1.024
214
Bi
214
Bi
RaC Radium C
β
-
99.98%
α 0.02%
19.9 min
3.272
5.617
214
Po
210
Tl
214
Po
RaC' Radium C' α 0.1643 ms 7.883
210
Pb
210
Tl
RaC" Radium C"
β
-
1.30 min 5.484
210
Pb
210
Pb
RaD Radium D
β
-
22.3 a 0.064
210
Bi
210
Bi
RaE Radium E
β
-
99.99987%
α 0.00013%
5.013 d
1.426
5.982
210
Po
206
Tl
210
Po
RaF Radium F α 138.376 d 5.407
206
Pb
206
Tl β
-
4.199 min 1.533
206
Pb
206
Pb
– stable – –
The mean lifetime of
238
U is 1.41 × 10
17
seconds divided by 0.693 (or multiplied by 1.443), i.e. ca. 2 × 10
17
seconds, so 1 mole of
238
U emits 3 × 10
6
alpha particles per second, producing the same number of thorium-234
(Th-234) atoms. In a closed system an equilibrium would be reached, with all amounts except for lead-206 and
238
U in fixed ratios, in slowly decreasing amounts. The amount of Pb-206 will increase accordingly while that of
238
U decreases; all steps in the decay chain have this same rate of 3 ×10
6
decayed particles per second per
mole
238
U.
Thorium-234 has a mean lifetime of 3 ×10
6
seconds, so there is equilibrium if one mole of
238
U contains
9 × 10
12
atoms of thorium-234, which is 1.5 × 10
−11
mole (the ratio of the two half-lives). Similarly, in an
equilibrium in a closed system the amount of each decay product, except the end product lead, is proportional to
Uranium-238 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-238
4 of 6 1.3.2014 21:13
its half-life.
As already touched upon above, when starting with pure
238
U, within a human timescale the equilibrium applies
for the first three steps in the decay chain only. Thus, for one mole of
238
U, 3 × 10
6
times per second one alpha
and two beta particles and gamma ray are produced, together 6.7 MeV, a rate of 3 µW. Extrapolated over
2 × 10
17
seconds this is 600 gigajoules, the total energy released in the first three steps in the decay chain.
Lighter:
uranium-237
uranium-238 is an
isotope of
uranium
Heavier:
uranium-239
Decay product of:
plutonium-242 (α)
protactinium-238 (β-)
Decay chain
of uranium-238
Decays to:
thorium-234 (α)
^ Mcclain, D.E.; A.C. Miller, J.F. Kalinich (December 20, 2007). "Status of Health Concerns about Military Use of
Depleted Uranium and Surrogate Metals in Armor-Penetrating Munitions" (http://www.afrri.usuhs.mil/www/outreach
/pdf/mcclain_NATO_2005.pdf) (pdf). NATO. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
1.
^ Nuclear France: Materials and sites. "Uranium from reprocessing" (http://www.francenuc.org/en_mat
/uranium4_e.htm).
2.
^ Facts from Cohen (http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/cohen.html). Formal.stanford.edu (2007-01-26).
Retrieved on 2010-10-24.
3.
^ Advanced Nuclear Power Reactors | Generation III+ Nuclear Reactors (http://www.world-nuclear.org
/info/inf08.html). World-nuclear.org. Retrieved on 2010-10-24.
4.
^ Encyclopædia Britannica (14 November 2007). "uranium-234–uranium-238 dating" (http://school.eb.com
/eb/article-9074426).
5.
^ Table of Radioactive Isotopes (http://nucleardata.nuclear.lu.se/NuclearData/toi/nuclide.asp?iZA=920238).
nuclear.lu.se
6.
NLM Hazardous Substances Databank – Uranium, Radioactive (http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin
/sis/search/r?dbs+hsdb:@term+@na+@rel+uranium,+radioactive)
Simulation of U238 using the Monte Carlo method (http://www.nucleonica.net/wiki/index.php
/Help:MCRD#U238)
Depleted uranium
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Uranium-238&oldid=596972327"
Categories: Actinides Isotopes of uranium Fertile materials Uranium
This page was last modified on 24 February 2014 at 21:12.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may
Uranium-238 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-238
5 of 6 1.3.2014 21:13
apply. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
Wikipedia® is a registered trademark of the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., a non-profit organization.
Uranium-238 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium-238
6 of 6 1.3.2014 21:13