What is Nuclear Stability?

Nuclear stability refers to the stability of a nucleus of an atom. A stable nucleus does not decay spontaneously. Radioactive elements contain unstable nuclei and decay spontaneously emitting various radiations.

Nuclear Stability

Nuclei of atoms contain protons and neutrons. Positively charged protons repel each other due to electrostatic repulsion between them. This electrostatic repulsion is overcome by the strong nuclear force, the attractive force present between nucleons. Neutrons are important for stabilising the nucleus. If the attractive force between nucleons is less than the electrostatic repulsion then it makes the nucleus unstable and results in decay.

It defines the stability of an isotope of the elements. Nucleons with high binding energy are more stable. Stability of an isotope can be determined by calculating the ratio of neutrons to protons present in a nucleus (N/Z). Elements having atomic number less than 20, mostly have proton and neutron ratio 1:1. The number of neutrons increases as the atomic number increases. Most of the stable nuclei have neutrons to protons ratio more than 1. Only 1H and 3He have neutrons to protons ratio less than one but are stable.

The first 80 elements of the periodic table have stable isotopes. All the elements with the atomic number more than 82 are unstable and radioactive, irrespective of the number of neutrons.

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