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Author Topic: Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?  (Read 3829 times)

Offline Karsten

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My students asked me this twice now and I did not have a good answer. I hate when that happens.

The trouble with radioactive material seems to be that some of it stays radioactive quite long. Other materials decay in milliseconds. Why do we use the materials that take so long to decay in a nuclear power plant? Could we use some that have a much shorter half life?

My guess is that the material has to be radioactive to be useful in a nuclear power situation and if it has a very short half life it is basically already gone by the time we find it in the ground. All that is left is the stuff with the half life of millions of years. But that is just a guess.

Any real answers?


 

Online Bored chemist

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #1 on: 04/03/2009 18:48:54 »
Essentially you already have the right answer. Very nearly all the radioactivity on earth is derived from  uranium and thorium which have long enough half lives not to have already decayed.
There are traces of things like carbon 14 made by cosmic / solar ray interactions in the upper atmosphere but these are too rare to generate any useful power.
 

Offline RD

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #2 on: 04/03/2009 20:45:01 »
Short lived radioactive isotopes are used in medicine ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technetium-99m_generator
 

Offline Karsten

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #3 on: 05/03/2009 01:03:01 »
Short lived radioactive isotopes are used in medicine ... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technetium-99m_generator

And we cannot run nuclear reactors with those short-lived isotopes?
 

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #4 on: 05/03/2009 06:53:55 »
The only way to make them is to use a nuclear reactor based on uraninum.
 

Offline Karsten

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #5 on: 05/03/2009 12:35:17 »
Aha. Very good. This makes sense. Thanks.
 

Offline swansont

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #6 on: 06/03/2009 19:18:48 »
We don't run most reactors on decay, we use induced fission (except for things like radioisotope thermal generators, which convert the heat from decay into electricity).  Fission has the advantages of being able to control the output, so you can effectively shut it down when you want to, and releasing more energy than in a typical decay, by a large factor (decay energies are typically several MeV, while fission of U-235 releases about 200 MeV).

So the materials used in the power plant have to have the long half-life.  If they had decayed away, there would be no fuel.
 

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Can we use isotopes that decay faster for nuclear power?
« Reply #6 on: 06/03/2009 19:18:48 »

 

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