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Neutron emission

Neutron emission

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Neutron emitters to left of lower dashed line


Neutron emission is a type of radioactive decay
Radioactive decay
Radioactive decay is the process by which an atomic nucleus of an unstable atom loses energy by emitting ionizing particles . The emission is spontaneous, in that the atom decays without any physical interaction with another particle from outside the atom...

 of atoms containing excess neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, in which a neutron is simply ejected from the nucleus. Two examples of isotopes which emit neutrons are helium-5 and beryllium-13. However, the decay of helium-5 is also (by definition) a case of alpha-decay.

Many heavy isotopes, most notably californium-252, emit neutrons among the products of a different radioactive decay process, spontaneous fission
Spontaneous fission
Spontaneous fission is a form of radioactive decay characteristic of very heavy isotopes. Because the nuclear binding energy reaches a maximum at a nuclear mass greater than about 60 atomic mass units , spontaneous breakdown into smaller nuclei and single particles becomes possible at heavier masses...

.

Neutrons are absorbed and emitted in the process of nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

, a nuclear chain reaction
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

 propagated by neutrons. Delayed neutron
Delayed neutron
In nuclear engineering, a delayed neutron is a neutron emitted after a nuclear fission event by one of the fission products anytime from a few milliseconds to a few minutes later....

s emitted by neutron-rich fission product
Fission product
Nuclear fission products are the atomic fragments left after a large atomic nucleus fissions. Typically, a large nucleus like that of uranium fissions by splitting into two smaller nuclei, along with a few neutrons and a large release of energy in the form of heat , gamma rays and neutrinos. The...

s aid control of nuclear reactor
Nuclear reactor
A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Most commonly they are used for generating electricity and for the propulsion of ships. Usually heat from nuclear fission is passed to a working fluid , which runs through turbines that power either ship's...

s by making reactivity change much slower than it would be for prompt neutron
Prompt neutron
In nuclear engineering, a prompt neutron is a neutron immediately emitted by a nuclear fission event, as opposed to a delayed neutron decay which can occur within the same context, emitted by one of the fission products anytime from a few milliseconds to a few minutes later.-Principle:Using U-235...

s alone.

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