A phenomenological theory of nuclei is developed which incorporates clustering at the nuclear surface in a general form. The theory explains the recently extracted large symmetry energy at low densities of nuclear matter and is consistent with the static properties of nuclei. In a phenomenological way clusters of all sizes, shapes along with medium modifications are included. The importance of a quartic term in the symmetry energy is demonstrated at and below the equilibrium density in nuclear matter. It is shown that it is related both to clustering as well as to the contribution of three-nucleon interaction to the equation of state of neutron matter. Reasons for these are discussed. Due to clustering the neutron skin thickness in nuclei reduces significantly.
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