Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Spontaneous fission (SF) is a form of radioactive decay characteristic of very heavy isotopes, and is theoretically possible for any atomic nucleus whose mass is greater than or equal to 100 amu (elements near ruthenium). In practice, however, spontaneous fission is only energetically feasible for atomic masses above 230 amu (elements near thorium). The elements most susceptible to spontaneous fission are the trans-actinide elements, such as rutherfordium.
For uranium and thorium, the spontaneous fission mode of decay does occur but is not seen for the majority of radioactive breakdowns and is usually neglected except for the exact considerations of branching ratios when determining the activity of a sample containing these elements. Mathematically, the criterion for whether spontaneous fission can occur is:
As the name suggests, spontaneous fission follows the exact same process as nuclear fission, only it is not self-sustaining and does not generate the neutron flux necessary to "go critical" and continue such fissions. However, spontaneous fissions release neutrons as all fissions do, so radioisotopes for which spontaneous fission is a nonnegligible decay mode may be used as neutron sources; californium-252 (half-life 2.645 years, SF branch ratio 3.09%) is often used for this purpose. The neutrons may then be used to inspect airline luggage for hidden explosives, to gauge the moisture content of soil in the road construction and building industries, to measure the moisture of materials stored in silos, and in other applications.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details