Atomic nuclei consist of positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons, particles which are collectively known as nucleons. Nucleons interact with one another through a short range attractive force, and it is this force which holds the nucleus together. Protons also interact with one another through a long range (inverse square law) repulsive force. Nuclear stability depends to a first approximation on the combination of the short range attractive forces and the longer range repulsive forces within the nucleus. As neutrons contribute mainly attractive forces to this sum, there is a sense in which the neutrons can be regarded as keeping the nucleus together. As the number of protons in the nucleus (the atomic number, Z) increases, so more neutrons are required to prevent the nucleus breaking apart under the strain of proton-proton repulsions.
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