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What radioactivity is?

Radioactivity is the spontaneous disintegration of an unstable nucleus into a more stable nucleus accompanied by the emission of energetic particles (radioactive rays) or photons . The process is said to be spontaneous because it is not influenced by any physical factors such as time, pressure, temperature, etc. The decay occurs randomly because each atom has the same probability of decaying at any moment of time. Three kinds of radiation There are three kinds of radiation emitted by radioactive materials : (1) Alpha particles, α (2) Beta particles, β (3) Gamma rays, g Radioactive Detectors Radioactive detectors make use of the ionisation process to detect radioactive emission (except for the photographic plate). The following are the common detectors for radioactive emissions. (1) Photographic Plate or Film The photographic film or plate can be used as a special badge or tag to record the dosage of radiation a staff at radiation laboratories is exposed to. The detector works on the principle that radioactive radiation can cause a chemical change on the plate and produce a dark trace. The degree of darkening of the photographic film indicates the amount of radiation received. The photographic film can detect all the three types of radioactive radiation. (2) Gold Leaf Electroscope When the charged plate of the electroscope is exposed to the source of radioactive , the gold leaf will collapse slowly. This is due to the ions produced by radioactive source neutralise the charge in the electroscope. This method is suitable for detecting alpha particles because alpha particles have high ionizing power.

(3) Spark Counter

When the radioactive source is brought near the spark counter , the sparks are formed. The radioactive rays will ionise the air molecules. The sparks are formed due to collision between the ions and air molecules. The spark counter can only trace alpha particle which have high ionising power. (4) Geiger-Muller tube (GM tube) A GM tube is a very versatile , sensitive and useful detector of radiation. When the radioactive radiations enter the GM tube through the mica window and ionises the argon gas. A pulse current is produced and counted by a scaler or ratemeter . The actual reading of a GM tube is calculated as follow: Background reading is produced by radioactive materials from Earth and the surroundings such as stones, sand, soils, etc and also from the cosmic rays in the sunlight. The GM tube can detect alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays. (5) Cloud Chamber When the radioactive rays enter he upper part , the ionisation of air will occur. The ions allow the saturated alcohol vapour to condense forming tiny alcohol droplets and will cause the formation of misty tracks. The cloud chamber can detect all the three types of radioactive radiation.

The characteristics of radioactive emissions (1) Natural characteristics α- particles : Helium nucleus or β- particles : Fast moving electrons or g-rays : Electromagnetic waves (2) Charge α- particles : + 2e β- particles : -e g-rays : No charge (3) Speed α- particles : Up to 10% of speed of light β- particles : Up to 99% of speed of light g-rays : Speed of light (4) Ionising power α- particles : Strong β- particles : Medium g-rays : Very weak (5) Penetrating power α- particles : Low β- particles : Average g-rays : High

(6) Range in air α- particles : Several centimetres β- particles : Several metres g-rays : Several hundred metres (7) Effect of electric field α- particles : Small deflection towards negatively charged plate β- particles : Large deflection towards positively charged plate g-rays : No deflection The size of deflection of α- particles < β- particles because the mass of a- particles > g- particles. (8) Effect of electric field

α- particles : Small deflection β- particles : Large deflection in opposite direction of the a- particles g-rays : No deflection The size of deflection of α- particles < β- particles because the mass of α- particles > g- particles. The direction of deflection is determined by using Fleming’s left-hand rule.

Inside a Nuclear Power Plant In order to turn nuclear fission intoelectrical energy, nuclear power plant operators have to control the energy given off by the enriched uranium and allow it to heat water into steam. Enriched uranium typically is formed into inch-long (2.5-centimeter-long) pellets, each with approximately the same diameter as a dime. Next, the pellets are arranged into long rods, and the rods are collected together into bundles. The bundles are submerged in water inside a pressure vessel. The water acts as a coolant. Left to its own devices, the uranium would eventually overheat and melt. To prevent overheating, control rodsmade of a material that absorbs neutrons are inserted into the uranium bundle using a mechanism that can raise or lower them. Raising and lowering the control rods allow operators to control the rate of the nuclear reaction. When an operator wants the uranium core to produce more heat, the control rods are lifted out of the uranium bundle (thus absorbing fewer neutrons). To reduce heat, they are lowered into the uranium bundle. The rods can also be lowered completely into the uranium bundle to shut the reactor down in the event of an accident or to change the fuel. The uranium bundle acts as an extremely high-energy source of heat. It heats the water and turns it to steam. The steam drives a turbine, which spins a generator to produce power. Humans have been harnessing the expansion of water into steam for hundreds of years. To learn more about the properties involved, read How Steam Technology Works. In some nuclear power plants, the steam from the reactor goes through a secondary, intermediate heat exchanger to convert another loop of water to steam, which drives the turbine. The advantage to this design is that the radioactive water/steam never contacts the turbine. Also, in some reactors, the coolant fluid in contact with the reactor core is gas (carbon dioxide) or liquid metal (sodium, potassium); these types of reactors allow the core to be operated at higher temperatures.

Given all the radioactive elements inside a nuclear power plant, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there's a little more to a plant's outside than you'd find at a coal power plant. In the next section, we'll explore the various protective barriers between you and the atomic heart of the plant. Radioisot Cobalt-60 ope Field Medicine Sodium-24

Industry Magnesium-24 Beta and gamma

Decays to Nickel-60 Radiation Beta and gamma produced

Productio Neutron bombardment of cobalt-59 Neutron bombardment of sodium n Use o Treatment of cancer produces gamma rays, which can be used to treat cancer by irradiating the affected areas of the body o Kills cancer cells along with other cells o Detection of leaks in pipes Can be added to the liquid (water or oil) in a pipe and then be tested for along the pipe o No radiation will be detected from inside the pipe o If it leaks into the soil surrounding the pipe, it can be detected and the leak located

Suitability Has a suitable half-life for the Has a half-life of 15 hours, which of halfprocess, being long enough to have means that the liquid quickly becomes life a reasonable lifetime in the safe to use again and the environment equipment (about 5 years), but short is quickly decontaminated enough to emit a reasonable intensity of radiation Comparison of cobalt-60 and sodium-24 and their uses In agricultural applications, radioisotopes are usually used as tracers. Fertilizers doped with radioisotopes provide a means to find out the amount of fertilizer uptaken by crops and the portion that is lost. In addition, radiation can be used to exterminate insects. Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) is applied to inhibit the reproducing power of the insects so as to reduce their population. The SIT operations conducted in Mexico were successful in reducing the number of pest/insects significantly. With the support of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the SIT programmes are underway in a number of countries.

Radioisotope Dating The world is radioactive, and that has an extremely useful application. In particular, it allows us to determine the age of many different types of materials. When we use an isotope (an element with an unusual number of neutrons in its nucleus) that is radioactive, we say we are obtaining a radioisotope date. Carbon-14 The first method was invented by Williard Libby in the 1950s. He discovered that radiocarbon, C-14, had a half life§ of nearly 6000 years. (The actual number is closer to 5730 years, but for this course, just remember it is about 6000 years, abbreviated 6 kyr.) Moreover, although the C-14 on the surface of the Earth is constantly decaying away, it is also being produced. Cosmic rays (high energy protons from space) hit the atmosphere and produce neutrons; these neutrons are absorbed by a nitrogen atom in the atmosphere, which then immediately emits a proton, creating a new C-14. The net effect is that the C14 is produced at the same rate as it decays, so the level of C-14 stays constant. Its level is is one part in a trillion, i.e. 10^-12 of ordinary carbon. Plants absorb this carbon when they breathe in carbon-dioxide. So the carbon in plants consists of one part in a trillion C-14. We eat plants (and animals that eat plants, and animals that eat other animals) and the result is that the carbon in our bodies is also one part in a trillion C-14. As long as we eat and breathe, our carbon is one trillionth C-14. When we die, the C-14 decays (with its 6 thousand year half-life) but it is no longer replaced. After you are buried for 6 kyr, the amount of C-14 in your body is reduced by half. In another 6 kyr, it is cut in half again. By measuring the ratio of C-14 to ordinary carbon, we know when you died (or the tree, or the fossil, or whatever). For example, if we measure that a bone does not have one part in a trillion of carbon, but only 1/8 that much, then we know it has been buried for 3 half lives. (It is three half lives, because the amount is reduced by 1/2 three time, and 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/8.) Three half lives means it is 18 kyr old. This method is extremely useful in archeology. Current controveries include the question of when did humans first enter the North American continent. C-14 dates from fossils of humans seem to indicate that they arrived before the last ice age ended. But some groups of Native Americans argue that it is improper to analyze these bones, because they are the bones of their ancestors. Potassium-40 All potassium contains a 0.01% (i.e. one part in 10,000) of the radioactive isotope K-40. ("K" is the chemical symbol for potassium. K-40 means that the total number of neutrons and protons in the nucleus is 40. Ordinary potassium is K-39.) The half life of K-40 is 1.26 billion years. When it decays (explodes), the K-40 emits an electron, a neutrino, and the remaining nucleus turns into Argon-40, abbreviated Ar-40. This is particularly useful for geology. Imagine that there was a volcanic eruption in the past, and a molten rock lands in the sea. Because the rock was hot and molten, any gas that was trapped inside it escapes. When the rock solidifies, it initally has no gas trapped inside. But here is potassium inside, and therefore there is also potassium-40 inside. Every years, some of that K-40 decays, turning into argon gas. Because the rock is solid, the gas cannot escape.

This rock might be trapped in sea floor sediment, where it becomes part of newly forming sedimentary rock. A million years later, this sedimentary rock might have been lifted above the sea as mountains formed. We examine the rock, and we see an interesting fossil. Perhaps the fossil of a dinosaur. We wonder, how old is the fossil? In the same sedimentary rock, the astute geologist notices a rock that he can tell (he is a geologist!) came from a volcano. He brings the rock to the laboratory, melts it, and measures the amount of argon gas that comes out. From that measurement, the geologist knows how long ago the rock was formed, and so knows when the dinosaur bone was laid down. It is this method, called Potassium-Argon dating, that has given us the best estimates for the ages of ancient fossils.

The essential parts of a nuclear reactor are : 1. Nuclear fuel :The nuclear fuel used in a nuclear reactor is the enriched 92U235.T he nuclear fuel is sealed in along ,narrow metal tubes called fuel rods . The enriched 92U235 ensures that at least one of the neutrons produced by a fission reaction has a good chance of causing fission in another 92U235 nucleus. 2.Moderator: The neutron released by fission normally move very fast .At this high speed , the chance of a neutron being captured by another 92U235 nucleus is very small , If the neutron is slowed , its chance of capture is much better . In order to slowed down the fast fission neutrons, A moderator is used . 3. Control rods :In order to control the rate at which fission reaction occurs , control rods of neutron - absorbing material (eg. cadmium) are used .The control rods keep the net rate of production of neutrons to the required level by capturing the necessary proportion of neutrons before they initiate fission. When the control are moved upward out of the reactor , the number of neutrons left to produce fission is increased .On the other hand , when the control rods are lowered , the number of neutrons producing fission is decreased . 4. Coolant : The propose of the coolant is to removed heat from the reactor core and take it to the place of its utilisation eg. steam turbine. 5. Protective shield : In a nuclear reactor ,many types of harmful radiations are emitted .In order to prevent this radiations from reaching the persons working near the reactor , the reactor is enclosed in thick concrete walls.