Nuclear physicists associated with different institutions in Japan and their colleague from South Korea have found a new uranium isotope. In the past few decades, nuclear physicists have discovered that finding the properties of isotopes rich in neutrons is challenging, because of the problems caused by their creation. This has prompted some studies to focus on finding new ways to synthesize the isotopes under laboratory conditions.
For this recent study, the team of researchers used a new approach that involved using an isotope separation system to fire a sample nuclei of uranium-238 at a sample nuclei of platinum-198. These interactions usually bring about multinucleon transfer, which involves isotopes swapping protons and neutrons. This particular interaction ended with the creation of fragments, which the scientists analyzed to learn more about their makeup.
They discovered evidence of 19 heavy isotopes holding between 143 and 150 neutrons. Using time-of-flight mass spectrometry, they measured each of the isotopes. Time-of-flight mass spectrometry is a technique of mass spectrometry that involves the mass to charge ratio of an ion being determined using a time of flight measurement.
In their report, the researchers stated that some of the isotopes included had never been measured before, adding that uranium-241 was an unknown isotope. They reported that the isotope had mass number 241 and atomic number 92. They explained that they forced the previously unknown uranium isotope to reveal itself then tested their findings to determine that what they had discovered was, in fact, uranium-241.
Their experiment, they noted, marked the only time since the late 1970s that a uranium isotope rich in neutrons had been discovered. In addition, the investigators calculated the half-life of uranium-241, noting that its half-life was 40 minutes.
The method the researchers used depicts a pathway that will help to better understand the large nuclei shapes associated with heavy elements. This may in turn bring about changes to the theories that describe how exploding stars behave as well as describing models used to build nuclear weapons and power plants. The researchers also noted that their technique could be used to find out more about other heavy isotopes and maybe even find new ones.
Their research was published in March 2023 in the “Physical Review Letters” journal.
Researchers involved included T. Niwase, S. C. Jeong, Y. Hirayama, S. Iimura, T. Hashimoto, H. Ishiyama, A. N. Andreyev, Y. Ito, D. Kaji, H. Miyatake, J.-Y. Moon, S. Kimura, K. Morimoto, M. Rosenbusch, M. Wada, M. Oyaizu, A. Taniguchi, Y. X. Watanabe, M. Mukai and P. Schury.
It remains to be seen how this newly discovered isotope of uranium will influence the nuclear energy industry in which enterprises such as Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR) operate.
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