MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Why proton cannot initiate a Nuclear-Reaction instead of a neutron?

Date: Thu Jun 1 15:24:35 2000
Posted By: Michael Kay, Staff, Chem, Haz. Mat Mgmt, Health Physics, Nuclear Science, AMBRY, Inc
Area of science: Physics
ID: 959422989.Ph

This is one of those questions where I have to re-interpret the question, 
because protons are very capable of initiating nuclear reactions. The only 
drawback is that they have to be accelerated in some form of "atom 
smasher" such as a cyclotron or linear accelerator. These energetic 
protons can initiate many reactions depending on the target nucleus and 
the energy of the proton. Some of these can be: proton in, neutron out 
(the (p,n) reaction), proton in two neutrons out (p, 2n), up to many 
neutrons such as (p, 5n); spallation (where a high energy proton knocks 
out protons and neutrons and possibly other products); and fission of the 
target nucleus if it is large enough.

The question may also mean: why doesn't a proton at room temperature 
initiate fission in U-235 like a neutron does, or why doesn't a proton at 
room temperature cause a reaction such as proton absorbed and gamma-ray 
emitted like a neutron is able to do (the (n, gamma) reaction)? This is 
because the positive charge on the proton causes it to be repelled by the 
positive charge on the nucleus. This repulsion is called Coulomb Repulsion 
and creates an energy barrier to the proton entering the nucleus to 
initiate any nuclear reaction. The proton at room temperature does not 
have enough energy to break through this barrier. That is why the proton 
has to be given additional energy to "get over" the Coulomb Barrier.

The neutron has no charge, and therefore there is no Columb Barrier to 
stop a slow-moving (room temperature, also called thermal neutron) from 
entering the nucleus and initiating a nuclear reaction.

This is more fully explained in such classic textbooks as

"Introduction to Nuclear and Radiochemistry" by Friedlander, Kennedy, 
Macias and Miller

or any other book on nuclear and radiochemistry available in your library.

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