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Problems on nuclear decay:

1. Polonium-210 is an alpha-emitter with a half-life of 138 days. It emits alpha particles


of energy 5.3 MeV as it decays to a stable isotope of lead. One small pellet of
polonium-210 contains 1.3 x 1021 atoms.
(i) Show that the initial activity of this polonium pellet is about 8 x 1013 Bq.
(ii) Hence show that the rate of energy release by the pellet is more than 60 W.

2. Fission and fusion are both nuclear processes that release energy. About 20% of the
UKs energy need is currently provided by the controlled fission of uranium. Intensive
research continues to harness the energy released from the fusion of hydrogen.
(a) Fission of uranium-235 takes place after the absorption of a thermal neutron.
Assume such neutrons behave as an ideal gas at a temperature of 310 K.
Show that the square root of the mean square speed of the neutrons is about
3000 m s1. mass of neutron = 1.0087u
(b) Complete the equation for the fission of uranium-235.

(c) Calculate the energy released in a single fission. Hence determine the rate of
fission necessary to maintain a power output of 2.5 GW.

(d) State the conditions for fusion and hence explain why it has proved difficult to
maintain a sustainable reaction in a practical fusion reactor.
(e) The nuclear reaction below represents the fusion of two deuterium nuclei.
(f) Complete the equation and identify particle X.

Despite the difficulties, the quest for a practical fusion reactor continues.
(a) State two advantages fusion power might have over fission power.
3. (a) State what is meant by the binding energy of a nucleus.
(b) The iron isotope Fe-56 has a very high binding energy per nucleon. Calculate its
value in MeV.
(c) If the isotope Fe-56 were assembled from its constituent particles, what would be
the mass change, in kg, during its formation?

4. The unstable uranium nucleus U-236 is produced in a nuclear reactor


(i) Complete the equation which shows the formation of
236
(ii) U can decay by nuclear fission in many different ways. Complete the
92
equation
which shows one possible decay channel.

(iii) Calculate the energy released, in MeV, in the fission reaction.

5. Natural uranium consists of 99.3% U-238and 0.7% U-235. In many nuclear reactors,
the fuel consists of enriched uranium enclosed in sealed metal containers
(a) Explain what is meant by enriched uranium.
(b) Why is enriched uranium rather than natural uranium used in many nuclear
reactors?
(c) By considering the neutrons involved in the fission process, explain how the rate
of production of heat in a nuclear reactor is controlled.
(d) Explain why all the fuel in a nuclear reactor is not placed in a single fuel rod.

6. Ionisation smoke detectors contain a small amount of the radioactive isotope


americium. 241 Am is an -emitter. It has a half-life of 432 years, and the activity
from the source in a new smoke detector is about 3.5 x 104 Bq.
(a) Explain why the radiation produced by a smoke detector does not pose a health
hazard.
(b) Complete the nuclear equation for the decay of americium.

(c) Using data from the table, calculate the energy, in MeV, of -particles released
when a nucleus of americium-241 undergoes alpha decay.