Q-value – Energetics of Nuclear Reactions

Q-value of DT fusion reaction

Q-value of DT fusion reaction

In nuclear and particle physics the energetics of nuclear reactions is determined by the Q-value of that reaction. The Q-value of the reaction is defined as the difference between the sum of the masses of the initial reactants and the sum of the masses of the final products, in energy units (usually in MeV).

Consider a typical reaction, in which the projectile a and the target A gives place to two products, B and b. This can also be expressed in the notation that we used so far, a + A → B + b, or even in a more compact notation, A(a,b)B.

See also: E=mc2

The Q-value of this reaction is given by:

Q = [ma + mA – (mb + mB)]c2

which is the same as the excess kinetic energy of the final products:

Q = Tfinal – Tinitial

   = Tb + TB – (Ta + TA)

For reactions in which there is an increase in the kinetic energy of the products Q is positive. The positive Q reactions are said to be exothermic (or exergic). There is a net release of energy, since the kinetic energy of the final state is greater than the kinetic energy of the initial state.

For reactions in which there is a decrease in the kinetic energy of the products Q is negative. The negative Q reactions are said to be endothermic (or endoergic) and they require a net energy input.

See also: Q-value Calculator

Q-value of Exothermic Reactions

Q-value of DT fusion reaction

Q-value of DT fusion reaction

The DT fusion reaction of deuterium and tritium is particularly interesting because of its potential of providing energy for the future. Calculate the reaction Q-value.

3T (d, n) 4He

The atom masses of the reactants and products are:

m(3T) = 3.0160 amu

m(2D) = 2.0141 amu

m(1n) = 1.0087 amu

m(4He) = 4.0026 amu

Using the mass-energy equivalence, we get the Q-value of this reaction as:

Q = {(3.0160+2.0141) [amu] – (1.0087+4.0026) [amu]} x 931.481 [MeV/amu]

= 0.0188 x 931.481 = 17.5 MeV

Cross-section of 10B(n,2alpha)T reaction.

Cross-section of 10B(n,2alpha)T reaction.

Tritium is a byproduct in nuclear reactors. Most of the tritium produced in nuclear power plants stems from the boric acid, which is commonly used as a chemical shim to compensate an excess of initial reactivity. Main reaction, in which the tritium is generated from boron is below:

10B(n,2*alpha)T

This reaction of a neutron with an isotope 10B is the main way, how radioactive tritium in primary circuit of all PWRs is generated. Note that, this reaction is a threshold reaction due to its cross-section.

Calculate the reaction Q-value.

The atom masses of the reactants and products are:

m(10B) = 10.01294 amu

m(1n) = 1.00866 amu

m(3T) = 3.01604 amu

m(4He) = 4.0026 amu

Using the mass-energy equivalence, we get the Q-value of this reaction as:

Q = {(10.0129+1.00866) [amu] – (3.01604+2 x 4.0026) [amu]} x 931.481 [MeV/amu]

= 0.00036 x 931.481 = 0.335 MeV

Q-value of Endothermic Reactions

In nuclear reactors the gamma radiation plays a significant role also in reactor kinetics and in a subcriticality control. Especially in nuclear reactors with D2O moderator (CANDU reactors) or with Be reflectors (some experimental reactors). Neutrons can be produced also in (γ, n) reactions and therefore they are usually referred to as photoneutrons.

A high energy photon (gamma ray) can under certain conditions eject a neutron from a nucleus. It occurs when its energy exceeds the binding energy of the neutron in the nucleus. Most nuclei have binding energies in excess of 6 MeV, which is above the energy of most gamma rays from fission. On the other hand there are few nuclei with sufficiently low binding energy to be of practical interest. These are: 2D, 9Be, 6Li, 7Li and 13C. As can be seen from the table the lowest threshold have 9Be with 1.666 MeV and 2D with 2.226 MeV.

Photoneutron sources

Nuclides with low photodisintegration
threshold energies.

In case of deuterium, neutrons can be produced by the interaction of gamma rays (with a minimum energy of 2.22 MeV) with deuterium:

Photoneutron - deuterium

The reaction Q-value is calculated below:

The atom masses of the reactant and products are:

m(2D) = 2.01363 amu

m(1n) = 1.00866 amu

m(1H) = 1.00728 amu

Using the mass-energy equivalence, we get the Q-value of this reaction as:

Q = {2.01363 [amu] – (1.00866+1.00728) [amu]} x 931.481 [MeV/amu]

= -0.00231 x 931.481 = -2.15 MeV

Calculate the reaction Q-value of the following reaction:

7Li (α, n) 10B

The atom masses of the reactants and products are:

m(4He) = 4.0026 amu

m(7Li) = 7.0160 amu

m(1n) = 1.0087 amu

m(10B) = 10.01294 amu

Using the mass-energy equivalence, we get the Q-value of this reaction as:

Q = {(7.0160+4.0026) [amu] – (1.0087+10.01294) [amu]} x 931.481 [MeV/amu]

= 0.00304 x 931.481 = -2.83 MeV

Nuclear and Reactor Physics:

  1. J. R. Lamarsh, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Theory, 2nd ed., Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA (1983).
  2. J. R. Lamarsh, A. J. Baratta, Introduction to Nuclear Engineering, 3d ed., Prentice-Hall, 2001, ISBN: 0-201-82498-1.
  3. W. M. Stacey, Nuclear Reactor Physics, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0- 471-39127-1.
  4. Glasstone, Sesonske. Nuclear Reactor Engineering: Reactor Systems Engineering, Springer; 4th edition, 1994, ISBN: 978-0412985317
  5. W.S.C. Williams. Nuclear and Particle Physics. Clarendon Press; 1 edition, 1991, ISBN: 978-0198520467
  6. Kenneth S. Krane. Introductory Nuclear Physics, 3rd Edition, Wiley, 1987, ISBN 978-0471805533
  7. G.R.Keepin. Physics of Nuclear Kinetics. Addison-Wesley Pub. Co; 1st edition, 1965
  8. Robert Reed Burn, Introduction to Nuclear Reactor Operation, 1988.
  9. U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Physics and Reactor Theory. DOE Fundamentals Handbook, Volume 1 and 2. January 1993.

Advanced Reactor Physics:

  1. K. O. Ott, W. A. Bezella, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Statics, American Nuclear Society, Revised edition (1989), 1989, ISBN: 0-894-48033-2.
  2. K. O. Ott, R. J. Neuhold, Introductory Nuclear Reactor Dynamics, American Nuclear Society, 1985, ISBN: 0-894-48029-4.
  3. D. L. Hetrick, Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48453-2. 
  4. E. E. Lewis, W. F. Miller, Computational Methods of Neutron Transport, American Nuclear Society, 1993, ISBN: 0-894-48452-4.