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Radioactive Decay

Prepared and Submitted by


Pratik Patel
In partial fulllment of the requirements of Physics 416L
Spring 2011
October 27, 2011
Francis Marion University
Florence, SC
Contents
1 Tritium 1
1.1 The Decay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.2 The Q-Value of Tritium Decay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
1.3 Depreciating Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
2 Strontium-90 Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator 2
3 Serial Decay 3
4 Specic Activity 7
4.1 Specic Activity of Sodium-22 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
4.2 Specic Activity of Potassium-40 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
5 Auger Electrons 8
6 Binding Energy 9
7 Integrated Activity 10
8 Internal Conversion 11
List of Figures
1 A plot of the activities of Pu-241, Am-241, and Np-237 over time. . . . . . . . . . 6
List of Tables
1 Comparing the properties of nuclei in Pu-241 serial decay. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
2 A brief extract from the data table generated in Excel. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
3 Auger electrons ejected from the L-shell of gold following a transition from L- to
K-shell. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
4 A table that lists total binding energies and the binding energies per nucleon of
selected isotopes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
5 A table that lists the energies of K- and L-shell electrons ejected via internal con-
version from Ba-137m. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Abstract
In this project, the decay, the Q-value, and the depreciating activity of tritium, an isotope of hy-
drogen with two neutrons, will be rst examined. Then, the amount of Sr-90 required to build a
radioisotope thermoelectric generator that provides a minimum of 10 watts of electrical power for
at least 50 years will be determined. Starting with a sample of Pu-241 with an initial activity of
215 mCi, the activities of Pu-241, Am-241, and Np-237 after 50 years will be calculated using
the Bateman equation. The specic activities of Na-22 and K-40 will be determined. Energies of
Auger electrons ejected from the L-shell of a gold atom, following an L- to K-shell transition will
also be calculated. The total binding energies and the binding energies per nucleon of Li-3, O-16,
P-31, and Fe-56 will be be calculated. The integrated activity of a sample of I-131 with an initial
activity of 10 mCi over 12 days will be determined. And lastly, the energies of K- and L-shell
internal conversion electrons from Ba-137m will be calculated.
The Q-value of tritium was calculated to be 18.591 keV; and for tritium to lose 95% of its
activity, it would take 53.16 years. To provide a minimum of 10 watts of electrical power for 50
years, at least 454.7970 g of Sr-90 would be required. The activities of Pu-241, Am-241, and Np-
237 after 50 years, were calculated to be 19.03245 mCi, 6.09765 mCi, and 69.043 nCi. Table 3 lists
the energies of electrons ejected from a gold atom following a transition from the L- to K-shell in
that atom. The specic activities of Na-22 and K-40 were calculated to be 6244.872 Ci and 7.1677
Ci respectively. The binding energies of Li-7, O-16, P-31, and Fe-56 were calculated to be 39.245
MeV, 127.616 MeV, 262.942 MeV, and 492.264 MeV respectively; whereas, the binding energies
per nucleon for the above listed isotopes were calculated to be 5.606 MeV, 7.976 MeV, 8.482 MeV,
and 8.790 MeV respectively. Over 12 days, the cumulative activity of I-131 will be 2.390 10
14
decays. Table 5 lists the energies of K- and L-shell internal conversion electrons from Ba-137m.
1 Tritium
Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that has two neutrons in its nucleus. Tritium has
a half-life (T
1/2
) of 12.3 years and decays solely via

decay. The products of the decay are a


Helium-3 (He-3) nucleus, an electron, and an anti-electron neutrino. The Q-value of this decay is
18.591 keV. With its particular half-life, and a pure sample of tritium, it would take 53.16 years for
the sample to lose 95% of its activity.
1.1 The Decay
3
1
H

12.3 as;dlfkja;lkdsjf;aklsdjf;yrs.
3
2
He + e

+
e
1.2 The Q-Value of Tritium Decay
The Q-value of a decay the amount of net energy released during the decay, and is calculated
by rst subtracting the mass of the daughter nucleus from the mass of the parent nucleus. This
mass difference is then multiplied by c
2
to get the energy released from the decay.
Q = [m(
3
1
H) m(
3
2
He)]c
2
Substituting 3.0160492777 u for the mass of tritium, 3.016029319 u for the mass of He-3, and c
2
as 931.502
MeV
u
we get
Q = [3.016042777 u 3.016029319 u] 931.502
MeV
u
.
With simple subtraction and multiplication, we calculate the Q-value of a tritium decay to be
18.591 keV.
1.3 Depreciating Activity
With results from several experiments, we know that the activity of a sample radioactive decay
will decrease with increasing time given by
A(t) = A
0
e
t
, (1)
where A
0
is the initial activity of the sample, A(t) is the activity of the sample at time t, and
1
is
the disintegration (or decay) constant of the sample.
After some time, a sample of tritium will not have the same activity as it initially did. The
activity, over time, will have decreased to a much smaller amount. After 95% of the sample of
tritium has decayed, it can be said that the sample has lost most of the tritium. Because activity
1
=
ln(2)
T
1/2
1
is directly proportional to the amount of radioactive substance present, the activity of the decayed
tritium will only be 5% of the initial activity. Thus, we can substitute 0.05A
0
for A(t) and 0.05635
years
1
for in Eq. 1 and solve for time t:
0.05A
0
= A
0
e
0.05635 years
1
t
.
The solution will give us the time it would take for a sample of tritium to lose 95% of its activity.
The beauty this substitution is that the initial activity of the sample (or the initial amount of sample
present) does not matter as it just falls out of the equation. Rearranging the equation above, we get
that
t =
ln(0.05)
0.05635
years.
After solving for t, it is calculated that a sample of tritium would lose 95% of its initial activity
after 53.16 years.
2 Strontium-90 Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
A radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) is a device that harnesses the energy released
from nuclear decay. The energy is collected as thermal energy, and the principles for a thermocou-
ple are used to generate electrical power. The thermal power collected by an RTG can be calculated
by
P
T
= A
E
decay
(2)
where P
T
is the thermal power collected, A is the activity of the radioactive source, and E is the
energy that can be collected per decay.
When wanting to build an RTG that provides a minimum of 10 watts of electrical power, for at
least 50 years, using Sr-90, a few relationships must be rst noted:
Not all the thermal power (P
T
) collected can be converted to electrical power (P
E
);
Because of a proportional relationship, as seen in Eq. 2, the decrease in power from the
RTG will be follow the same exponential decay as activity (Eq. 1) of the parent source of
radiation, which leads to
P(t) = P
i
_
e
t
_
(3)
The RTG in question will only convert 8% of P
T
to P
E
. Since 10 watts of power are needed,
the thermal power required will be
P
T
=
P
E
0.08
=
10 W
0.08
= 125 W.
From the above calculation, 125 watts of thermal power are required at 50 years. Keeping into
mind the second note, if 125 watts of power will be required at 50 years, 125 W can be substituted
2
for A(50), 50 years for t and the
ln(2)
28.79years
for in Eq. 3, and solve for P
i
. The substitution of these
values results in
P
i
=
P(50 years)
(e
t
)
=
125 W
_
e

ln(2)
28.79 years
50 years
_ = 416.5940 W.
The initial thermal power needed, as shown above, is 416.5940 watts. Also knowing that
1 gram of Sr-90 provides 0.916 watts of power, the number of grams of Sr-90 required can be
determined by
16.5940 W
_
1 g
0.916 W
_
= 454.7970 g.
The calculations above show that an RTG that needs to provides 10 watts of electrical power
for 50 years using Sr-90, 454.7970 g of Sr-90 are needed initially.
3 Serial Decay
Serial decay is a phenomenon where a radioactive isotope decays into another unstable radioac-
tive isotope, and so on, until the series of decays is stopped when the last radioactive isotope decays
into a stable isotope. An example of a serial decay includes the parent nucleus as Plutonium-241
(Pu-241). Pu-241 decays via

decay into Americium-241 (Am-241). Am-241, via decay,


decays into Neptunium-237 (Np-237) as shown below.
241
Pu

14.4yrs
241
Am

437.7yrs
237
Np
This can be considered as the end of the decay chain because even though Np-237 isnt a stable
isotope, its half-life is extremely long compared to its parent and grandparent nuclei. Table 1 lists
the nuclei (and their properties) of the Pu-241 decay chain.
Table 1: Comparing the properties of nuclei in Pu-241 serial decay.
Istope Half-Life (years) (years
1
)
Pu-241 14.4 0.048135
Am-241 437.7 0.001602
Pu-227 2.14 10
6
3.239 10
7
More often than not, the activity due to each of these nuclei is analyzed. It was seen in Section
1.3 that activity decreases with increasing time in accordance with Eq. 1. However, now, not only
activity is seen from the parent nuclei, but also the daughter and granddaughter nuclei. The number
of nuclei present at time t is given by
3
N
i
(t) = N
1
(0)
_

_
i

j=1

i
e

i
t
i

j=1, j=i
(
j

i
)
_

_
, (4)
where N
i
is the generation of the radioisotope and
i
is the decay constant for the nucleus of that
generation. Equation 4 can be be easily manipulated to get the activity that arises from these nuclei
by simply multiplying it by
i
:
A
i
(t) =
i
N
1
(0)
_

_
i

j=1

i
e

i
t
i

j=1, j=i
(
j

i
)
_

_
, (5)
Equation 5, referred to as the Bateman Equation, reduces to Eq. 1 for the calculation of the
activity of the parent nucleus. Equations 6 and 7 show the calculations of the activities of the
daughter and the granddaughter nuclei respectively.
A
2
(t) =

1

2
N
1
(0)
(
1

2
)
_
e

1
t
e

2
t

(6)
A
3
(t) =
1

3
N
1
(0)
_
e

1
t
(
2

1
)(
3

1
)
+
e

2
t
(
1

2
)(
3

2
)
+
e

3
t
(
1

3
)(
2

3
)
_
(7)
Using Eqs. 1, 6 and 7, and the data listed in Table 1, a table containing activities of the nuclei
in the Pu-241 decay series was generated in Microsoft Excel. Table 2 shows some of the data
generated in the spreadsheet. For a visual interpretation of the activities, the data table was used to
generate the plot shown in Fig. 1.
Following the steps listed above, and starting with Pu-241 with an initial activity of 215 mCi, it
was calculated that the activities of Pu-241, Am-241, and Np-237, after 50 years, will be 19.03245
mCi, 6.09765 mCi, and 69.043 nCi, respectively.
4
Table 2: A brief extract from the data table generated in Excel.
Activities of isotopes (Bq)
Time (years) Pu-241 Am-241 Np-237
0.0 7881000000 0 -1.49E-11
0.1 7843024244 1260778.256 2.04E-02
0.2 7805231480 2515279.085 8.15E-02
0.3 7767620826 3763532.766 1.83E-01
0.4 7730191405 5005569.436 3.25E-01
0.5 7692942343 6241419.084 5.07E-01
0.6 7655872770 7471111.555 7.28E-01
0.7 7618981823 8694676.552 9.90E-01
0.8 7582268641 9912143.633 1.29E+00
0.9 7545732366 11123542.21 1.63E+00
1.0 7509372147 12328901.57 2.01E+00
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
49.0 739050347 224817292.8 2.48E+03
49.1 735489124.4 224899471.3 2.49E+03
49.2 731945062 224981066.9 2.50E+03
49.3 728418077.3 225062082.5 2.50E+03
49.4 724908087.8 225142520.8 2.51E+03
49.5 721415011.8 225222384.7 2.52E+03
49.6 717938767.6 225301677 2.53E+03
49.7 714479274.2 225380400.4 2.53E+03
49.8 711036450.9 225458557.8 2.54E+03
49.9 707610217.4 225536151.9 2.55E+03
50.0 704200493.7 225613185.4 2.55E+03
5
Figure 1: A plot of the activities of Pu-241, Am-241, and Np-237 over time.
6
4 Specic Activity
Specic activity (SA) is dened as the activity of sample per unit mass. The activity can be in
units for either Bq or Ci; whereas the unit mass can vary from grams to kilograms. In this report,
SA will have units of Bq g
1
. The specic activity of Ra-226 (3.7 10
10
Bq g
1
) is dened to be
1 Ci. The Curie is often used as a unit of activity because of extensive study of radium by Marie
and Pierre Curie.
Specic activity of a radioactive isotope can be found using
SA =
6.022 10
23

M
, (8)
where is the decay constant of the isotope, and M is the atomic mass of the isotope. Special
care must be taken when substituting the decay constant. Because Bq bears the units of decays per
second, should have units of sec
1
.
4.1 Specic Activity of Sodium-22
To calculate the SA of Sodium-22 (Na-22), which has a half-life of 2.6027 years, the decay
constant must be rst found in terms of sec
1
. Straightforward dimensional analysis results in
=
ln (2)
T
1/2
=
_
ln(2)
2.6027 yrs
__
1 yrs
365.25 days
__
1 day
24 hrs
__
1 hrs
3600 sec
_
= 8.439 10
9
1
sec
The atomic mass of Na-22, referenced from the Chart of Nuclides, is 21.991 g. The atomic
mass and the decay constant found above can now be substituted in Eq. 8 to nd the specic
activity of Na-22:
SA =
6.022 10
23
8.439 10
9
sec
1
21.994 g
= 2.31 10
14
Bq g
1
.
Using the denition of a Curie, we nd that
SA =
_
2.31 10
14
Bq g
1
_
_
1 Ci
3.7 10
10
Bq g
1
_
= 6244.842 Ci.
One gram of pure Na-22, when measured, will have an activity of 6244.842 Ci.
4.2 Specic Activity of Potassium-40
Just like before, to calculate the specic activity of Potassium-40 (K-40), which has a half-life
of 1.248 10
9
years, the decay constant must be rst found in terms of sec
1
. The dimensional
analysis results in
7
=
ln (2)
T
1/2
=
_
ln(2)
1.248 10
9
yrs
__
1 yrs
365.25 days
__
1 day
24 hrs
__
1 hrs
3600 sec
_
= 1.760 10
17
1
sec
The atomic mass of K-40, referenced from the Chart of Nuclides, is 39.963984 g. The atomic
mass and the decay constant found above can now be substituted in Eq. 8 to nd the specic
activity of K-40:
SA =
6.022 10
23
1.760 10
17
sec
1
39.963984 g
= 2.65 10
5
Bq g
1
.
Using the denition of a Curie, we nd that
SA =
_
2.65 10
5
Bq g
1
_
_
1 Ci
3.7 10
10
Bq g
1
_
= 7.1677 Ci.
One gram of pure K-40, when measured, will have an activity of 7.1677 Ci.
5 Auger Electrons
Auger electrons are electrons ejected when an electron from a higher energy level transitions
to a lower energy level. This energy released from the transition can be released by the emission
of an X-ray, a competing process to the ejection of the Auger electron.
In X-ray spectroscopy of gold, electrons from the K-shell are of ejected from a gold atom. This
causes a vacancy in the K-shell. For this scenario, it is desired to calculate the energy of an Auger
electron that is ejected from the L-shell when another electron from the L-shell transitions to the
vacancy in the K-shell.
To comply with the law of conservation of energy, we can logically say that the Auger electron
will have an energy of the difference between the transition shells, minus that electrons binding
energy (B.E.). In terms of an equation, we can write
E
e
= B
To
B
From
B
e
, (9)
where E
e
is the energy of the Auger electron, B
To
is the binding energy of vacant shell, B
From
is
the binding energy of the shell from which an electron will ll the vacancy, and B
e
is the binding
energy of the Auger electron.
Though our scenario may seem trivial, one should not forget that the L-shell of an atom has
three subshells. Therefore, the transition from an L-shell to a K-shell would have three possible
transitions. Taking the subshells into account, L
I
K, L
II
K, and L
III
K are all possible transi-
tions. The same dilemma applies to the Auger electron. Because the L-shell has three subshells, an
Auger electron may be ejected from either L
I
, L
II
, or L
III
. When an electron transitions to a lower
8
shell, quantum mechanical rules do not allow the ejection of an Auger electron that has a higher
binding energy than the transitioning electron. When an electron transitions from L
III
to K, only
electrons that are at higher energy levels may be ejected. A

spectroscopy would not provide


any evidence for Auger electrons from either L
II
or L
I
subshells.
Table 3 methodically lists all possible transitions and all possible Auger electrons. The table
also shows all the values that need to be substituted into Eq. 9 to arrive the nal calculation of the
energy of the ejected Auger electron.
Table 3: Auger electrons ejected from the L-shell of gold following a transition from L- to K-shell.
Transition B.E. of the electron (eV) E Ejected e

B.E. of Auger e

Energy of Auger
From To From To (eV) (eV) e

(eV)
L
I
K 14.3528 80.7249 66.3721 L
I
14.3528 52.0193
L
I
K 14.3528 80.7249 66.3721 L
II
13.7336 52.6385
L
I
K 14.3528 80.7249 66.3721 L
III
11.9187 54.4534
L
II
K 13.7336 80.7249 66.9913 L
II
13.7336 53.2577
L
II
K 13.7336 80.7249 66.9913 L
III
11.9187 55.0726
L
III
K 11.9187 80.7249 68.8062 L
III
11.9187 56.8875
6 Binding Energy
Binding energy of a nucleus is the difference in the mass-energy of an atom and the constituents
of its nucleus (protons and neutrons). It is dened to be
B =
_
Z m(
1
1
H) + N m(n) m(
A
Z
X)

c
2
, (10)
where m(
1
1
H) is the mass of a hydrogen atom, m(n) is the mass of a neutron, Z is the number of
protons, N is the number of neutrons, m(
A
Z
X) is the atomic mass of the isotope in question.
The binding energy per nucleon (B
n
) is simply the total binding energy of the nucleus divided
by the number of nucleons present and can be calculated by
B
n
=
B
A
, (11)
where B is the binding energy calculated in Eq. 10, and A is the number of nucleons present in the
nucleus.
Because of the use of several constants, a spreadsheet may be very easily formulated to cal-
culate the values for total binding energy and binding energy per nucleon. Table 4 lists all the
9
necessary information needed to calculate the total binding energy and the binding energy per
nucleon for Lithium-7, Oxygen-16, Phosphorus-31, and Iron-56.
Table 4: A table that lists total binding energies and the binding energies per nucleon of selected
isotopes.
Isotope Z m(H) (u) N m(n) (u) A m(X) (u) c
2
MeV/u B (MeV) B
n
(MeV)
Li-7 3 1.007825 4 1.00866501 7 7.01600455 931.502 39.245 5.606
O-16 8 1.007825 8 1.00866501 16 15.99491956 931.502 127.616 7.976
P-31 15 1.007825 16 1.00866501 31 30.97376163 931.502 262.920 8.481
Fe-56 26 1.007825 30 1.00866501 56 55.9349375 931.502 492.264 8.790
7 Integrated Activity
Integrated activity (

A)is the measure of total number of decays that happen in a given time
period. The calculation of integrated activity is given by

A =
A
0

_
1 e
t
_
, (12)
where A
0
is the initial activity of the sample, is the disintegration constant, and t is the amount
of time that has passed.
To calculate the integrated of Iodine-131 with an initial activity of 10 mCi over 12 days, the
units must be st standardized. This is because the half-life of I-131 is in units of days and activity,
once converted, is in units of sec
1
. Previously used dimensional analysis results in an activity of
3.7 10
8
decays per second, a disintegration constant of 9.97828 10
7
sec
1
, and a period of
1036800 seconds. Substituting these values into Eq. 12 results in

A =
3.7 10
8
decays sec
9.97828 10
7
sec
_
1 e
9.9782810
7
sec
1
1036800 sec
_
= 2.390 10
14
decays
Using Eq. 12, it is seen that a sample of I-131 that initial has an activity of 10 mCi will have
an integrated activity of 2.390 10
14
decays.
10
8 Internal Conversion
The phenomenon of internal conversion is when an excited nucleus, instead of emitting a -ray,
transfers its energy to an inner-shell electron. The energy of the ejected electron is the calculated
by subtracting the binding energy of the electron ejected from the energy of the excited nucleus.
The equation can be written as
T
e
= E B
e
, (13)
where T
e
is the energy of the internal conversion electron, E is the energy released when the
nucleus de-excites, and B
e
is the binding energy of the electron being ejected.
To calculate the energies of the internal conversion electrons ejected from Ba-137m, a spread-
sheet can be tabulated again to get results. Table 5 show the energies of the internal conversion
electrons from Ba-137m.
Table 5: A table that lists the energies of K- and L-shell electrons ejected via internal conversion
from Ba-137m.
E (keV) Electron From B.E. (keV) Te (keV)
661.7 K 37.4406 624.2594
661.7 L
I
5.9888 655.7112
661.7 L
II
5.6236 656.0764
661.7 L
III
5.247 656.453
11