Isotopes of neptunium

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Neptunium-239)
Jump to: navigation, search
Actinides and fission products by half-life
Actinides[1] by decay chain Half-life
range (y)
Fission products of 235U by yield[2]
4n 4n+1 4n+2 4n+3
4.5–7% 0.04–1.25% <0.001%
228Ra 4–6 155Euþ
244Cm 241Puƒ 250Cf 227Ac 10–29 90Sr 85Kr 113mCdþ
232Uƒ 238Pu 243Cmƒ 29–97 137Cs 151Smþ 121mSn
248Bk[3] 249Cfƒ 242mAmƒ 141–351

No fission products
have a half-life
in the range of
100–210 k years ...

241Am 251Cfƒ[4] 430–900
226Ra 247Bk 1.3 k – 1.6 k
240Pu 229Th 246Cm 243Am 4.7 k – 7.4 k
245Cmƒ 250Cm 8.3 k – 8.5 k
239Puƒ№ 24.1 k
230Th 231Pa 32 k – 76 k
236Npƒ 233Uƒ№ 234U 150 k – 250 k 99Tc 126Sn
248Cm 242Pu 327 k – 375 k 79Se
1.53 M 93Zr
237Np 2.1 M – 6.5 M 135Cs 107Pd
236U 247Cmƒ 15 M – 24 M 129I
244Pu 80 M

... nor beyond 15.7 M years[5]

232Th 238U 235Uƒ№ 0.7 G – 14.1 G

Legend for superscript symbols
₡  has thermal neutron capture cross section in the range of 8–50 barns
ƒ  fissile
metastable isomer
№  naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM)
þ  neutron poison (thermal neutron capture cross section greater than 3k barns)
†  range 4–97 y: Medium-lived fission product
‡  over 200,000 y: Long-lived fission product

Neptunium (Np) is an artificial element, and thus a standard atomic mass cannot be given. Like all artificial elements, it has no stable isotopes. The first isotope to be synthesized was 239Np in 1940, produced by bombarding 238U with neutrons to produce 239U, which then underwent beta decay to 239Np.

Trace quantities are found in nature from neutron capture by uranium atoms.

Twenty neptunium radioisotopes have been characterized, with the most stable being 237Np with a half-life of 2.14 million years, 236Np with a half-life of 154,000 years, and 235Np with a half-life of 396.1 days. All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 4.5 days, and the majority of these have half-lives that are less than 50 minutes. This element also has 4 meta states, with the most stable being 236mNp (t1/2 22.5 hours).

The isotopes of neptunium range in atomic weight from 225.0339 u (225Np) to 244.068 u (244Np). The primary decay mode before the most stable isotope, 237Np, is electron capture (with a good deal of alpha emission), and the primary mode after is beta emission. The primary decay products before 237Np are isotopes of uranium and protactinium, and the primary products after are isotopes of plutonium.

Some notable isotopes[edit]


Neptunium-235 has 142 neutrons and a half-life of 400 days. This isotope of Neptunium either decays by:

This particular isotope of neptunium has a weight of 235.0440633 u.


Neptunium-236 has 143 neutrons and a half-life of 154,000 years. It can decay by the following methods:

  • Electron capture: the decay energy is 0.93 MeV and the decay product is Uranium-236.
  • Beta emission: the decay energy is 0.48 MeV and the decay product is Plutonium-236.
  • Alpha emission: the decay energy is 5.007 MeV and the decay product is Protactinium-232

This particular isotope of neptunium has a mass of 236.04657 u. It is a fissile material with a critical mass of 6.79 kg.[6]

236Np is produced in small quantities via the (n,2n) and (γ,n) capture reactions of 237Np,[7] however it is nearly impossible to separate in any significant quantities from its parent 237Np.[8] It is for this reason that, despite its low critical mass and high neutron cross section, it has not been researched as a nuclear fuel in weapons or reactors.


Neptunium-237 decay scheme (simplified)

237Np decays via the neptunium series, which terminates with thallium-205, which is stable, unlike most other actinides, which decay to stable isotopes of lead.

In 2002, 237Np was shown to be capable of sustaining a chain reaction with fast neutrons, as in a nuclear weapon, with a critical mass of around 60 kg.[9] However, it has a low probability of fission on bombardment with thermal neutrons, which makes it unsuitable as a fuel for conventional nuclear power plants (as opposed to accelerator-driven systems, etc.).

237Np is the only neptunium isotope produced in significant quantity in the nuclear fuel cycle, both by successive neutron capture by uranium-235 (which fissions most but not all of the time) and uranium-236, or (n,2n) reactions where a fast neutron occasionally knocks a neutron loose from uranium-238 or isotopes of plutonium. Over the long term, 237Np also forms in spent nuclear fuel as the decay product of americium-241.

237Np is projected to be one of the most mobile nuclides at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

Use in plutonium-238 production[edit]

When exposed to neutron bombardment 237Np can capture a neutron and become 238Pu, this product being useful as an thermal energy source for the production of electricity in deep space probes and, of recent note, the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover). These applications are economically practical where photovoltaic power sources are weak or inconsistent.


Z(p) N(n)  
isotopic mass (u)
half-life decay
mode(s)[10][n 1]
excitation energy
225Np 93 132 225.03391(8) 3# ms [>2 µs] α 221Pa 9/2−#
226Np 93 133 226.03515(10)# 35(10) ms α 222Pa
227Np 93 134 227.03496(8) 510(60) ms α (99.95%) 223Pa 5/2−#
β+ (.05%) 227U
228Np 93 135 228.03618(21)# 61.4(14) s β+ (59%) 228U
α (41%) 224Pa
β+, SF (.012%) (various)
229Np 93 136 229.03626(9) 4.0(2) min α (51%) 225Pa 5/2+#
β+ (49%) 229U
230Np 93 137 230.03783(6) 4.6(3) min β+ (97%) 230U
α (3%) 226Pa
231Np 93 138 231.03825(5) 48.8(2) min β+ (98%) 231U (5/2)(+#)
α (2%) 227Pa
232Np 93 139 232.04011(11)# 14.7(3) min β+ (99.99%) 232U (4+)
α (.003%) 228Pa
233Np 93 140 233.04074(5) 36.2(1) min β+ (99.99%) 233U (5/2+)
α (.001%) 229Pa
234Np 93 141 234.042895(9) 4.4(1) d β+ 234U (0+)
235Np 93 142 235.0440633(21) 396.1(12) d EC 235U 5/2+
α (.0026%) 231Pa
236Np[n 2] 93 143 236.04657(5) 1.54(6)×105 y EC (87.3%) 236U (6−)
β (12.5%) 236Pu
α (.16%) 232Pa
236mNp 60(50) keV 22.5(4) h EC (52%) 236U 1
β (48%) 236Pu
237Np[n 2][n 3] 93 144 237.0481734(20) 2.144(7)×106 y α 233Pa 5/2+
SF (2×10−10%) (various)
CD (4×10−12%) 207Tl
238Np 93 145 238.0509464(20) 2.117(2) d β 238Pu 2+
238mNp 2300(200)# keV 112(39) ns
239Np 93 146 239.0529390(22) 2.356(3) d β 239Pu 5/2+
240Np 93 147 240.056162(16) 61.9(2) min β 240Pu (5+)
240mNp 20(15) keV 7.22(2) min β (99.89%) 240Pu 1(+)
IT (.11%) 240Np
241Np 93 148 241.05825(8) 13.9(2) min β 241Pu (5/2+)
242Np 93 149 242.06164(21) 2.2(2) min β 242Pu (1+)
242mNp 0(50)# keV 5.5(1) min 6+#
243Np 93 150 243.06428(3)# 1.85(15) min β 243Pu (5/2−)
244Np 93 151 244.06785(32)# 2.29(16) min β 244Pu (7−)
  1. ^ Abbreviations:
    CD: Cluster decay
    EC: Electron capture
    IT: Isomeric transition
    SF: Spontaneous fission
  2. ^ a b Fissile nuclide
  3. ^ Most common nuclide


  • Values marked # are not purely derived from experimental data, but at least partly from systematic trends. Spins with weak assignment arguments are enclosed in parentheses.
  • Uncertainties are given in concise form in parentheses after the corresponding last digits. Uncertainty values denote one standard deviation, except isotopic composition and standard atomic mass from IUPAC, which use expanded uncertainties.


  1. ^ Plus radium (element 88). While actually a sub-actinide, it immediately precedes actinium (89) and follows a three-element gap of instability after polonium (84) where no isotopes have half-lives of at least four years (the longest-lived isotope in the gap is radon-222 with a half life of less than four days). Radium's longest lived isotope, at 1,600 years, thus merits the element's inclusion here.
  2. ^ Specifically from thermal neutron fission of U-235, e.g. in a typical nuclear reactor.
  3. ^ Milsted, J.; Friedman, A. M.; Stevens, C. M. (1965). "The alpha half-life of berkelium-247; a new long-lived isomer of berkelium-248". Nuclear Physics 71 (2): 299. doi:10.1016/0029-5582(65)90719-4. 
    "The isotopic analyses disclosed a species of mass 248 in constant abundance in three samples analysed over a period of about 10 months. This was ascribed to an isomer of Bk248 with a half-life greater than 9 y. No growth of Cf248 was detected, and a lower limit for the β half-life can be set at about 104 y. No alpha activity attributable to the new isomer has been detected; the alpha half-life is probably greater than 300 y."
  4. ^ This is the heaviest isotope with a half-life of at least four years before the "Sea of Instability".
  5. ^ Excluding those "classically stable" isotopes with half-lives significantly in excess of 232Th; e.g., while 113mCd has a half-life of only fourteen years, that of 113Cd is nearly eight quadrillion years.
  6. ^ Final Report, Evaluation of nuclear criticality safety data and limits for actinides in transport, Republic of France, Institut de Radioprotection et de Sûreté Nucléaire, Département de Prévention et d'étude des Accidents.
  7. ^ Analysis of the Reuse of Uranium Recovered from the Reprocessing of Commercial LWR Spent Fuel, United States Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  8. ^ **Jukka Lehto; Xiaolin Hou (2011). "15.15: Neptunium". Chemistry and Analysis of Radionuclides (1st ed.). John Wiley & Sons. 231. ISBN 3527633022. 
  9. ^ P. Weiss (26 October 2002). "Neptunium Nukes? Little-studied metal goes critical". Science News 162 (17): 259. Archived from the original on 2012-12-15. Retrieved 7 November 2013. 
  10. ^ "Universal Nuclide Chart". nucleonica. (registration required (help)). 

Isotopes of uranium Isotopes of neptunium Isotopes of plutonium
Table of nuclides