Letter | Published:

Americium 242m in nuclear test debris

Naturevolume 256page482 (1975) | Download Citation



DIAMOND et al.1 discussed the production, in a thermonuclear explosion, of isobars of mass numbers 239 and greater by neutron reactions on uranium, followed by β decay; much the same arguments seem to apply to phenomena in plutonium devices. Both cases, viewed in this way, suggest that mass number 241 will be represented by both 241Pu and 241Am, mass number 242 only by 242Pu, and mass number 243 only by 243Am. Such considerations neglect, however, the fact that weapons-grade plutonium is always more or less contaminated by 241Am, and that this nuclide has an appreciable cross section (100 barn for thermal neutrons and slightly larger for epithermal neutrons) for neutron capture leading to 242Am; about 10% of such captures yield 242mAm, the others going to the ground state. It seems, then, that one should expect to find in the debris from nuclear explosions not just two, but all three, of the long lived americium nuclides: 241Am, 242mAm and 243Am.

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  1. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 02543



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