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The ABC's (or Alpha, Beta, Gamma) of Radioactivity

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state what radioactivity is, where these rays come from, what each ray is made of and state why they are dangerous. to explain the meaning of half-life.


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Early Pioneers in Radioactivity

Discoverer Alpha and Beta rays 1897

Discoverer of X-rays 1895

The Curies:
Discoverers of Radium and Polonium 19001908
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Discoverer of Radioactivity 1896

Review of Key Definitions

Atomic Number: Its the Number of Protons in the nucleus of an Atom. Nucleus: Its where the Protons and Neutrons are located in an Atom. Protons: Positively Charged Particles in the Nucleus of the atom. Mass = (approx) 1 AMU Neutrons: Neutrally charged particles in the nucleus of an atom Mass = (approx) 1 AMU Mass Number of an atom: Number of Protons + Number of Neutrons in the nucleus of an atom.

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What do we mean by Radioactivity?

Radioactive decay is the process in which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting radiation in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves.

unstable atomic nucleus emits a form of radiation (alpha, beta, or gamma) to become stable. ~A radioactive nucleus actually decays into a different atom. (= different # of protons ).

What do we mean by Radioactivity?

But, why does radioactivity occur?

An unstable nucleus releases energy (emitting particles & Electromagnetic waves) to become more stable (and
becomes a new type of atom)
What makes a nucleus unstable? A nucleus is unstable because of the ratio of protons to neutron in the nucleus of an atom. (Ratio outside of the Stability belt)
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The Nuclear Stability Belt

Ratio of neutrons to protons in the nucleus
138 Neutrons 92 Protons

Neutrons Protons

6 Neutrons 6 Protons

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Kinds of Radioactivity

The three main decays are Alpha, Beta and Gamma

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Three Common Types of Radioactive Emissions

Alpha Beta



4He + 2


3He + 0 2 -1


Three Common Types of Radioactive Emissions - Penetrability

Alpha particles may be completely stopped by a sheet of paper, Beta particles by aluminum shielding. Gamma rays, however, can only be reduced by much more substantial obstacles, such as a very thick piece of lead.
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Radioactive Decay Law


decay is the spontaneous release of energy in the form of radioactive particles or waves. It results in a decrease of the original amount radioactive material over time -(the unstable nuclei become stable by releasing the particles & waves)

Radioactive Decay Law


radioactive isotope consists of a vast number of radioactive nuclei. Nuclei does not decay all at once. Decay over a period of time. We can not predict when it will decay, its a random process but...

Radioactive Decay Law

... We can determine, based on probability, approximately how many nuclei in a sample will decay over a given time period, by asuming that each nucleus has the same probability of decaying in each second it exists.

The equation for the radioactive decay law:

N = - N POF!!! t

What was that???

Nt = the number of nuclei present at a give time (t) N0 = the number of nuclei present at time (t = 0) e = is the natural expoentional (logarithms) t = time (years, days, hours, or seconds) = half life (a RATE of decay = amount/time)


Half-Life (): The amount of time required for one-half or 50% of the radioactive atoms to undergo a radioactive decay. Every radioactive element (isotope/nuclide) has a specific half-life associated with it. Is a measure of how stable the nuclei is.

Half-Life ranges from fractions of a second to billions of years. No operation or process of any kind (i.e., chemical or physical) has ever been shown to change the rate at which a radionuclide decays.


= 4,510,000,000 Years

How long is the halflife of Sodium-24?

Each half life is the SAME time interval


unstable atomic nucleus emits a form of radiation (alpha, beta, or gamma) to become stable. In other words, the nucleus decays into a different atom.


of time it takes for one half of a sample of radioactive atoms to decay


Half-Life Calculation
400 200 5 min 100 5 min 50 5 min 25 5 min 12.5 5 min 6.25 5 min 3.125 5 min 1.5625 5 min .78125 5 min

have 400 mg of a radioisotope with a half-life of 5 minutes. How much will be left after 30 minutes?


Medical Applications of Half-Life

Nuclide I131 Half-Life 8.1 days Area of Body Thyroid

Sr87 Tc99 Na24

45.1 days
2.8 hours 6.0 hours 14.8 hours

Red Blood Cells

Bones Heart Circulatory System


Sources of Radioactivity

Primordial - from before the creation of the Earth (older than the earth) Cosmogenic - formed as a result of cosmic ray interactions (from space) Human produced - enhanced or formed due to human actions (minor amounts compared to natural)

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Where are the Sources of Radioactivity?

Naturally Occurring Sources: Radon from the decay of Uranium and Thorium Potassium -40 found in minerals and in plants Carbon 14 Found in Plants and Animal tissue Manmade Sources: Medical use of Radioactive Isotopes Certain Consumer products (eg Smoke detectors) Fallout from nuclear testing Emissions from Nuclear Power plants

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Radiation Exposure to Americans

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Radioactivity Is it a Health Problem?

The Alpha, Beta and Gamma particles all add energy to the bodys tissues. The effect is called the Ionizing Energy. It can alter DNA. Even though Alpha particles are not very penetrative if the decaying atom is already in the body (inhalation, ingestion) they can cause trouble. The Time, Distance and Shielding principle

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Why does a nucleus decay? Order these emissions from least to greatest penetrability: Gamma, Alpha, Beta. What is the greatest source of exposure to radioactivity in our everyday lives? If I tell you that that the half-life of Fellmanium-250 is 10 days, how much would be left after 30 days if I started with 1600 atoms?

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Nuclear Fusion

fusion is the process by which multiple nuclei join together to form a heavier nucleus. It is accompanied by the release or absorption of energy depending on the masses of the nuclei involved..




Complete the Fusion Reactions







2He 2He

What process creates energy in the Sun?

Fusion of hydrogen into helium in the Suns core generates the Suns energy.

How long ago did fusion generate the energy we now receive as sunlight?
Fusion created the energy we receive today about a million years ago. This is the time it takes for photons and then convection to transport energy through the solar interior to the photosphere. Once sunlight emerges from the photosphere, it takes only about 8 minutes to reach Earth.

Fusion Changes Mass into Energy

1kg Hydrogen
.993 kg Helium

What happened to the 0.007 kg?

2 E=mc

=(0.007kg) = 630,000,000,000,000 J

8 2 (3.0x10 m/s)

Nuclear Fission - a reaction in which an atomic nucleus of a radioactive element splits by bombardment from an external source, with simultaneous release of large amounts of energy. (used for electric power generation & nuclear weapons)

Nuclear Fission
Neutron induced in U235

Fission is Exothermic The sum of the masses of the resulting nuclei is less than the original mass (about 0.1% less) The missing mass is converted to energy according to E=mc2

Neutrons may:
Creates two smaller nuclides and free neutrons The free neutrons potentially collide with nearby U235 nuclei May cause the nuclide to split as well

1 - Cause another fission by colliding with a U235 nucleus

Each split (fission) is accompanied by a large quantity of E-N-E-R-G-Y

U.S. Electrical Power Production by Source

Source: EIA


Nuclear Fuel Costs


Fuel Costs Include

Uranium Enrichment Manufacturing Waste Disposal


Nuclear Fuel Cost is Only About 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour

Uranium accounts for only about 20% of this cost or 0.1 cents per kilowatt-hour Increasing Uranium Cost has Minimal Impact

Review Nuclear fission: - A large nucleus splits into several small nuclei when impacted by a neutron, and energy is released in this process Nuclear fusion: Several small nuclei fuse together and release energy.

Draw a Double Bubble Map of Fusion and Fission






Where to Get More Information htm EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Dept of Energy

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Resources: W3/noft.gif ge35.htm radio/halflife3.htm sld003.htm calc/raddec/raddec1.html