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Uranium 232

Uranium 232

Uranium 232 is not a naturally occurring isotope of uranium. It is a manufactured isotope and is a side product in the thorium fuel cycle, and also this isotope is a decay product of 236Pu in the uranium fuel. 232U is produced from 235U and 232Th via two of the reaction chains shown below. The formation of this isotope in both reactions results from specific (n,2n) reactions in which an incoming neutron knocks two neutrons out of a target nucleus. 232U can also be produced by two successive single radiative captures of the neutron, starting with naturally occurring isotope 230Th. 230Th is a decay product of 234U, which is, in turn, a decay product of 238U.Uranium 232 production

It is unusual, but 232U is a fissile isotope, and it is therefore capable of undergoing a fission reaction after absorbing a thermal neutron. This feature plays no significant role in nuclear reactors because the amount of 232U is negligible in sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction. 232U has a significant fission cross-section (75 barns for thermal neutrons) and radiative capture cross-section (73 barns for thermal neutrons). Therefore 232U also belongs to the group of fertile isotopes. Radiative capture of a neutron leads to the formation of fissile 233U.

The isotope 232U has another very important feature. 232U has a relatively short half-life of 68.9 years, and therefore the specific activity of 232U is much higher than the specific activity of the isotope 238U. In addition, the decay chain of 232U produces very penetrating gamma rays. The most important gamma emitter, accounting for about 85 percent of the total dose from 232U after 2 years, is thallium 208, which emits gamma rays of 2.6 MeV, which are very energetic and highly penetrating. These intense radiations make the handling of fissile 233U or reprocessed uranium contaminated with 232U far more dangerous than conventional fuels.

Reference: Kang, J.; Von Hippel, F. N. (2001). “U‐232 and the proliferation‐resistance of U‐233 in spent fuel”. Science & Global Security

See also: Neutron Cross-section

Source of nuclear data: JANIS (Java-based Nuclear Data Information Software); The JEFF-3.1.1 Nuclear Data Library
Fissile / Fertile Material Cross-sectionsUranium 232. Comparison of total fission cross-section and cross-section for radiative capture.
Uranium 232 decay chain.
Uranium 232 decay chain. This decay chain produces very penetrating gamma rays.

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Uranium 236

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Half-life of Isotopes of Uranium