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Direct and Compound nuclear reaction

Bohrs theory of nuclear reaction
Discovery of neutron (Chadwick, 1935), led to conduct of
many nuclear reactions with low and high energy neutrons.
It was observed that neutron absorption cross section was of
the order of R2 (R, the radius of nucleus) for neutrons with
high energies and for low energy neutrons the cross section
was higher & approaching the limiting value 2( is the de
Broglie wavelength of neutrons).
Based on these observations, N. Bohr in 1936 proposed a
mechanism for compound nuclear reaction (Bohrs
a+X C* Y+b
The composite system C* formed as a result of the
absorption of the incident projectile by the target nucleus is
called compound nucleus.
Lives long enough compared to the time taken by a nucleon
of few MeV energy to travel through the nuclear diameter
(10-22s). 2
According to Bohrs theory, compound nuclear reaction is a two
stage process.
i) The formation of the compound nucleus absorbing the incident
particle by target nucleus.
ii) The disintegration of the compound nucleus into a product
nucleus and one or more emitted particles.
These two stages are independent of each other: the mode of
decay is independent of the mode of formation of compound
nucleus (Independence hypothesis).
The decay of compound nucleus depends only on the Excitation
energy (EC), total angular momentum (IC) and parity of the
compound nucleus (C), but not upon how it was formed.
This is because, Compound nucleus is a long lived entity.

The compound nucleus thus formed remains in a given excited
state for a certain time (mean life time, ) before decay.
The decay constant, and mean life of the compound nucleus are
related as =1/.
Since decay probability is proportional to level width of an excited
level, using uncertainty relation,
. ~
Excited levels with larger level width are poorly defined in energy.
Now compound nucleus may decay by emitting a particle b or many
particles b, b, b, b,, .
If b is the partial width of the level for the decay by the emission
of particle b, then considering the various possible types of decay,
the total width of the excited level is
=(b + b + b +.) +
The relative probabilities or branching ratios of different types of
decay are then
b= b/, b = b/, .., = /
Based on the independence hypothesis, the cross section, (a, b)
for the process X(a, b)Y can be written as the product of the cross
section C(a, X) for the formation of the compound nucleus and the
probability of its decay b for the emission of b.
(a, b) = C(a, X) b = C(a, X) b/
This eqn assumes that the decay probability is dependent only on
the property of the compound nucleus state and is independent of
the way it was formed.
This type of decay through a single channel is possible only if the
levels are well separated and are so sharp that they do not
interfere with one another; the mean level spacing D should be
very much larger than the level width , (<<D). Then the cross
section for excitation as function of incident energy will have a
discrete structure as shown in Fig. 13.3a.
On the other hand if >>D, the cross section becomes a smoothly
varying function of energy as shown in Fig.13.3b. This consists of
many partial widths, corresponding to different types of emitted
particles (b, b, b, b..) and different energy channels.

The gist of the independence hypothesis is that the cross section
for formation nucleus C(a, X) is same for all possible decay
channels (b, b, b,).
Thus for

If the same compound nucleus is formed in some other way, then
the decay channels should be same.

It is easy to see that according to the hypothesis of compound

nucleus, one should get

Ghoshal Expt
This was experimentally demonstrated by the famous experiment of
S. N. Ghoshal (1950), where he produced the same compound
nucleus 30Zn*64 with the bombardment of 28Ni60 by alpha particles
and of 29Cu63 by protons with appropriate energies to reach the
same excitation energy.

28Ni (, n)30Zn63

28Ni (, 2n)30Zn62

28Ni (, pn)29Cu62

29Cu (p, n)30Zn63


29Cu (p, 2n)30Zn63


29Cu (p, pn)29Cu62


These reactions correspond to the formation of the same compound
state 30Zn*64 but, decay into different outgoing channels.

Writing the reaction cross sections, we see that

These results are valid for all protons energies between 3 to 33

MeV and the corresponding alpha particles energies 10 to 40 MeV.

This was the first experimental evidence for the validity of Bohrs
independence hypothesis.

Fission, Neutron multiplication factor
and Four factor formula.

Nuclear Fission

A heavy nucleus splits into two smaller nuclei.

Large amount of energy is released.
The total mass of the products is less than the
original mass of the heavy nucleus.
First observed in 1939 by Otto Hahn and Fritz
Strassman following basic studies by E. Fermi.
L. Meitner and O. Frisch soon explained what had

Fission Equation
Fission of 235U by a slow (low energy) neutron

1 235 236
0 n U
92 92 U * X Y neutrons

236U* is an intermediate, long-lived state & lasts about 10-12 s.

X and Y are called fission fragments
Many combinations of X and Y satisfy the requirements of
conservation of energy and charge.
Meitner and Frisch showed that fission fragments are highly
radioactive as they have a high neutron to proton ratio.

More About Fission of 235U

About 90 different daughter nuclei can be

Several neutrons are also produced in each
fission event
1 235 141 92 1
0 n U
92 Ba
56 36 Kr 3 n

The fission fragments and the neutrons have a

great deal of KE following the event
Sequence of Events in Fission
The 235U nucleus captures a thermal neutron.
This capture results in the formation of 236U*, and the
excess energy of this nucleus causes it to undergo
violent oscillations.
The 236U* nucleus becomes highly elongated, and the
force of repulsion between the protons tends to increase
the distortion.
236 U* nucleus splits into two fragments, emitting
several neutrons in the process.

Sequence of Events in Fission Diagram

The Fission Process

A neutron travels at high speed towards a uranium-235 nucleus.

1 235
0n 92 U

The Fission Process

A neutron travels at high speed towards a uranium-235 nucleus.

1 235
0n 92 U

The Fission Process

A neutron travels at high speed towards a uranium-235 nucleus.

1 235
0n 92 U

The Fission Process

The neutron strikes the nucleus which then captures the neutron.

1 235
0n 92 U

The Fission Process

The nucleus changes from being uranium-235 to uranium-236 as

it has captured a neutron.

92 U

The Fission Process

The uranium-236 nucleus formed is very unstable.

It transforms into an elongated shape for a short time.

The Fission Process

The uranium-236 nucleus formed is very unstable.

It transforms into an elongated shape for a short time.

The Fission Process

The uranium-236 nucleus formed is very unstable.

It transforms into an elongated shape for a short time.

The Fission Process

It then splits into 2 fission fragments and releases




Types of fission reaction
Fission reaction can be induced using different projectiles
and based on the projectile used, we have the four types of
fission reactions:

Thermal fission (energy ~ few eV)

Ex- nuclei of o-e or e-o: 235U, 239Pu

Fast fission (energy ~ more than a MeV)

Charged particle fission (alpha, protons)

Photo fission (gamma radiations above 5 MeV)

Energy in a Fission Process

The fission fragments have less mass than the original nuclei

This decrease in mass per nucleon appears as released energy

in the fission event

An estimate of the energy released can be done using Q-

value equation and is about 200 MeV.

This is very large compared to the amount of energy released

in ordinary nuclear reactions as well in chemical processes.

1 kg of 235U can release energy equal to about

2.56x106 kg of coal (2.29x107 kWh).

Fissile & Fertile materials
235U, 233U and 239Pu are called fissile materials as they easily
undergo fission with thermal neutrons but 233U and 239Pu are not
available naturally and 235U forms 0.72% of the naturally
available uranium and rest is 238U.

233U and 239Pu can be produced artificially by bombarding

neutrons with 232Th and 238U. 232Th & 238U are called fertile

90Th 232
0 n1
90Th 233
92U 238
0 n1
92 U 239

90Th 233
91 Pa 233

92U 239
93 Np 239

91 Pa 233
92 U 233

93 Np 239
924 Pu 239

Neutron multiplication & Chain Reaction
Neutrons are emitted when 235U undergoes fission.

These neutrons are then available to trigger fission in other

235U nuclei and more neutrons will be available in next


Thus fission reaction continues in a chain as a self

sustaining process until the whole fissile material is
disintegrated. This process is called a chain reaction.
If uncontrolled, a violent explosion can occur in a fraction of a
second, the principle behind the nuclear bomb.

If controlled, will be the principle behind the nuclear reactors.

Chain Reaction

Neutron multiplication factor
The neutron multiplication factor, K, is defined as the
ratio of number of neutrons in one generation to the
number of neutrons in preceding generation.

No. of neutrons in any one generation

No. of neutrons in the preceding generation

The maximum value of K from uranium fission is 2.5.

In practice, K is less than 2.5.

A self-sustained reaction has K = 1

K Values
When K = 1, the reactor is said to be critical
The chain reaction is self-sustaining.

When K < 1, the reactor is said to be subcritical

The reaction dies out.

When K > 1, the reactor is said to be supercritical

A run-away chain reaction occurs

Factors determining K value in reactor
A nuclear reactor is a system designed to maintain a
self-sustained chain reaction.

Consists of natural uranium (98.28% 238U, 0.72%

235U), moderator (graphite or D O) and coolants (CO
2 2
or D2O or H2O) etc.

When 235U fissions with a thermal neutron, three fast

neutrons are emitted. By studying the events which
can occur with one such fast neutron, we can
determine K value.

Events with one such neutron
Fast neutron before slowing down may be absorbed in 238U and
may cause fission.
Fast neutron before slowing down may be absorbed in 238U and
may not cause fission (radiative capture).
Neutron may be absorbed in moderator, coolants while slowing
Slowed down & fast neutrons may be absorbed in 235U and may
cause fission of it.
Slowed down & fast neutrons may be absorbed in 235U but may
not cause fission.
Fast & slow neutrons both may escape from the reactor
assembly. This is called leakage loss.
Reactor Design Considerations - Neutron Leakage

Loss (or leakage) of neutrons from the core

These are not available to cause fission events
The fraction of neutrons lost is a function of ratio of surface
area to volume of the reactor (i.e., r2/r3 =1/r).
For a reactor of very large size (infinite size), the leakage can
be neglected. Neutron multiplication factor at this size of the
reactor is called infinite multiplication factor (K).
Small reactors have larger percentage loss of neutrons.
If too many neutrons are lost, the reactor will not operate.

Four factor formula for neutron multiplication
Let n be the initial thermal neutrons cause the fission with 235U.
If be the fast neutrons produced per fission, then total number
of fast neutrons produced in n fissions of 235U is n.
Among these n fast neutrons, some may produce fast fission in
235U and 238U. If is the fast fission factor, the total number of

neutrons produced due to fast fission is n .

Out of these fast neutrons, some may be absorbed in moderators,
coolants and fuel (235U & 238U) during slowing down process
and lost without causing fission (Radiative capture). If p is
escape probability for neutrons from absorption while slowing
down, then the number of neutrons slowed down to thermal
energy is n p. And n (1-p) is the number of neutrons lost in
non-fission reactions and in moderator, coolants.
After n p number of neutrons slowed down, the fraction f of
them are absorbed in 235U, where f is the thermal utilization
factor. Then the total number of thermal neutrons absorbed in
fuel is n pf and n p(1-f) number of thermal neutrons is
absorbed in other materials.
All the thermal neutrons absorbed in 235U may not cause fission
of 235U. If g is the fraction of thermal neutrons absorbed in 235U
which cause fission, then the total number of neutrons available
in the second generation due to initial n thermal neutrons is

N = n pfg

The infinite multiplication factor for neutrons is
K pfg
With g = , the number of fast neutrons produced for each
thermal neutron absorbed in the fuel, then K value becomes
K pf
This is known as the four factor formula for neutron multiplication
in infinite size reactor. The escape rate is proportional to r2 and
production is proportional to r3, where r is the radius of reactor
Escape rate 1 Production rate
or Escape rate
Production rate r r

Thus larger the size of the reactor, the smaller is the escape probability.
The size of the reactor at which escape rate is negligible is called critical
Nuclear reactor
The energy release in fission can be used for peaceful purposes
such as generation of electric power.
Fission is made use in reactors to generate power where chain
reaction is put under control & energy production is attained a
steady state.
Nuclear reactor is a device in which energy is produced at a
constant rate and it consists of the following elements.
Nuclear fuel
Neutron reflector
Cooling system
The safety and control systems (control rods, shielding)
Basic Reactor Design

Pressurized Water Reactor

Reactor constituents

Fuel elements consist of enriched uranium (U235, U233, Pu239).

The moderator material helps to slow down the neutrons.
Commonly used materials are D2O, graphite, beryllium as
these have low absorption cross section and high scattering
cross section for neutrons.
Reflectors: To minimize the leakage loss from the reactor
assembly, usually inner wall of the core is made with the
materials with high scattering cross section called reflectors.
Coolants: In order to transfer the heat generated, a cooling
system is used. Commonly used coolants are heavy water,
ordinary water, CO2 and helium etc.

Control & Safety system- The control system is used to
control the chain reaction by absorbing all neutrons. This is
done by pushing control rods into the reactor core. The
control rods absorb neutrons. Control rods are made using
boron or cadmium as these materials have high neutron
absorption cross section.
The safety system protects the space around the reactor
against high flux of nuclear radiations (alpha, beta, gamma,
protons, neutrons, neutrinos). This is achieved by putting
massive thick walls of lead, concrete etc.

Pressurized Water Reactor Operation Notes
This type of reactor is
commonly used in electric
power plants.
Fission events in the reactor core
supply heat to the water
contained in the primary system
The primary system is a closed

This water is maintained at a

high pressure to keep it from
The hot water is pumped
through a heat exchanger

Pressurized Water Reactor Operation .contd

The heat is transferred to the water contained in a secondary

This water is converted into steam
The steam is used to drive a turbine-generator to create electric
The water in the secondary system is isolated from the water in
the primary system
This prevents contamination of the secondary water and steam by the
radioactive nuclei in the core

Reactor Safety Containment

Radiation exposure, and its potential health risks, are

controlled by three levels of containment
Reactor vessel
Contains the fuel and radioactive fission products
Reactor building
Acts as a second containment structure.
Reactor facilities are in remote locations

Reactor Safety Loss of Water

If the water flow was interrupted, the nuclear reaction could

stop immediately
However, there could be enough residual heat to build up
and melt the fuel elements
The molten core could also melt through the containment vessel and into
the ground
If the molten core struck ground water, a steam explosion could spread the
radioactive material to areas surrounding the power plant
Reactors are built with emergency cooling systems that
automatically flood the core if coolant is lost

Reactor Safety Radioactive Materials

Disposal of waste material

Waste material contains long-lived, highly radioactive isotopes
Must be stored over long periods in ways that protect the
Present solution is sealing the waste in waterproof containers
and burying them in deep underground.
Transportation of fuel and wastes
Accidents during transportation could expose the public to
harmful levels of radiation
Department of Atomic Energy requires crash tests and
manufacturers must demonstrate that their containers will not
rupture during high speed collisions

Nuclear Fusion & energy production in stars
Nuclear fusion occurs when two light nuclei combine to form a
heavier nucleus.
The mass of the final nucleus is less than the masses of the original
This loss of mass is accompanied by a release of energy.
All stars generate energy through fusion.
The Sun, along with about 90% of other stars, fuses hydrogen
Some stars fuse heavier elements.
Two conditions must be met before fusion can occur in a star.
The temperature must be high enough.
The density of the nuclei must be high enough to ensure a high rate of

Types of fusion reaction
H. A. Bethe in 1932 suggested two sets of thermonuclear reactions.
Proton-Proton cycle

Carbon- Carbon cycle

The proton-proton cycle is a

Proton-Proton Cycle series of three nuclear
H 1
H 2
H e
reactions believed to operate
1 1 1
in the Sun
2 He
1 2 3
1 H 1 H Energy liberated is primarily

Then in the form of gamma rays,

positrons and neutrinos.
1 H 2 He 2 He e
1 3 4
P-P cycle is predominant at
or lower temperatures.
2 He 3
2 He 4
2 He 2 1H
1 Four protons are converted
into a 2He4.

Carbon-Carbon Cycle

6 C12
1 H 1
7 N 13
In the process, four protons are
converted into a helium and
7 N 13
6 C13

6 C13
1 H 1
7 N 14
Nitrogen simply acts as catalyst.
7 N 14
1 H 1
8 O15
C-N cycle is predominant at very

high temperature.
8 O15
7 N 15

7 N 15
1 H 1
6 C12
2 He 4

Fusion Reactors
Energy releasing fusion reactions are called thermonuclear
fusion reactions
A great deal of effort is being directed at developing a
sustained and controllable thermonuclear reaction.
A thermonuclear reactor that can deliver a net power output
over a reasonable time interval is not yet a reality.
Advantages of Fusion Reactor
Inexpensive fuel source
Water is the ultimate fuel source

Comparatively few radioactive by-products are formed

Requirements for Successful Thermonuclear Reactor

High temperature 108 K

Needed to give nuclei enough energy to overcome
Coulomb forces
At these temperatures, the atoms are ionized, forming a
Plasma ion density, n
The number of ions present

Plasma confinement time,

During this time, the interacting ions are maintained at
a temperature equal to or greater than that required for
the fusion reaction to proceed successfully

Few Methods of Creating Fusion Events

Magnetic confinement (tokamak).

Two magnetic fields confine the plasma inside the doughnut.
Inertial laser confinement
Fuel is put into the form of a small pellet

It is collapsed by ultrahigh power lasers

Inertial electrostatic confinement

Positively charged particles are rapidly attracted toward an

negatively charged grid

Some of the positive particles collide and fuse