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RADIOACTIVITY, NUCLEAR FISSION AND NUCLEAR FUSION

RADIOACTIVITY Elements with a large number of protons, or protons and neutrons combined, naturally have unstable nuclei. The large number of sub-nuclear particles causes an imbalance between attractive nuclear forces and repulsive electrical forces. Another factor affecting nuclear instability is the ratio of neutrons to protons, which can disrupt forces in the nucleus even if the total number of such particles is not too large. The result is a process called radioactivity. Radioactivity is the spontaneous breakdown of an unstable atomic nucleus accompanied by the emission of particles and rays. DISCOVERY OF RADIOACTIVITY In 1896, the French physicist Henri Becquerel found that uranium compounds emit radiation which affected a photographic plate even when wrapped in black paper. This emission was popularly known then as Becquerel rays. The husband-and-wife team of Pierre and Marie Curie was greatly interested in Becquerel rays. It was Marie Curie who coined the name radioactivity for these rays. The Curies discovered a second radioactive element, radium. In 1903, the Curies, together with Becquerel, shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on radioactivity. When Pierre Curie was killed to an accident, Marie Curie became the first woman to teach in the university where her husband was a professor. However, when she was nominated to the French Academy of Science, she was denied membership because she was a woman. Marie Curie went on to win her second Nobel prize in 1911, this time in chemistry, for her isolation of pure radium metal. Radium showed great promise as a cure for cancer and was hailed as a wonder drug. Marie Curies discovery was a milestone in nuclear physics, and the fact that it was made by a woman in a field dominated by men made it doubly remarkable. This discovery ushered in the atomic age.

NATURE OF RADIOACTIVITY All radioactive nuclides (i.e., the nucleus of a particular isotope) have certain common characteristics: 1. Their radiation affects photographic films. Even if a photographic film is wrapped in heavy black paper and kept in the dark, some of the radiation from radioactive nuclides penetrate the wrapping and affect the film. When the film is developed, a black spot can be seen where the invisible radiation struck the film. Some radiation can penetrate flesh, wood, thin sheets of metal and even thick sheets of glass.

2. Their radiation makes certain compounds fluoresce. Radiation from radioactive nuclides produces bright flashes of light when they strike certain compounds. The effect is a fluorescence, or glow, given off by the affected material. 3. Their radiation often has physiological effects on organic tissue. Radiation from radioactive sources can destroy the germinating power of plant seeds, kill bacteria and even injure or kill large animals. Burns from radioactive materials heal with great difficulty and may sometimes be fatal. 4. They undergo continuous radioactive decay. The atoms of all radioactive elements continually decay into simpler atoms and simultaneously emit radiation. However, it is not impossible to predict when a specific atom will decay. The rate of decay may be described by the time it will take for half of the atoms given ample to decay. The half-life of the nuclide is the amount of time during which half of a given number of atoms of a radioactive nuclide decays. Half-life rates vary, from 25 minutes for iodine-128 to 1620 years for radium-226 to 700 million years for uranium-235.

TYPES OF RADIOACTIVITY In the course of his alpha-scattering experiments, Rutherford discovered that the radiation from radioactive materials can be separated into three distinct types by means of a strong magnet a. Alpha Particles () These are composed of two protons and two neutrons; hence they are helium nuclei. Have two positive electrical charges; travel about one-tenth the speed of light. Have masses about four times that of the hydrogen atom. They are deflected only slightly by a magnetic field. Their penetrating power is not very great. They can be stopped by a thin piece of aluminum foil or even by a thin sheet of paper. b. Beta Particles () Electrons which have single negative charges and travel at nearly the speed of light (about 90%). Their mass is only a small fraction of the mass of alpha particles. Even though they have only half as much charge, they are deflected significantly more by a magnetic field and in the opposite direction.

The high speed of beta particles makes them much more penetrating than alpha particles. It was beta particles from the uranium compound that fogged Becquerels photographic plates. c. Gamma Rays () These are high-energy electromagnetic waves. These are the same kind of radiation as visible light, but of much shorter wavelength, and thus higher frequency. Produced by energy transitions in the nucleus, but do not change the composition of the nuclear particles. They are the most penetrating of the radiation given off by radioactive elements. They are not electrically charged and are not deflected by a magnetic field. The table below summarizes the characteristics of the three types of radioactivity.

Radioactivity Alpha Particles () Beta Particles () Gamma Ray ()

Identity Helium He Electron e Visible light

Penetrating Power Low; stopped by skin Medium; 1 cm flesh High; passes through body

Shielding Requirement Thick paper; clothing Thick aluminum foil 10 cm lead, 30 cm concrete

There are several different devices that may be used to detect and measure the amount of radiation. The most common of these is the Geiger counter. This instrument was developed by Hans Geiger in 1908 to detect and measure radioactivity. It works based on the fact that nuclear radiation is ionizing radiation. As a result of ionization, pulse of electrical current flows between the electrodes. These pulses are amplified and converted into a series of audible clicks that are counted automatically. The Geiger counter literally counts the number of alpha, beta, or gamma rays that can be detected each second. Each click of the Geiger counter provides a measure of the number of decaying nuclei.

RADIOACTIVE DECAY The emission of each type of radiation has a different effect on the nucleus of an atom. Radioactive atoms change into atoms of different elements when they emit or particles. The transformation of one element into another element as a result of radioactive emissions is termed radioactive decay. These changes are spontaneous and cannot be controlled. It is a random event. The new elements may be unstable, too, forming what we call radioisotopes or radioactive isotopes. All elements have isotopes. Isotopes of a given element have the same number of protons but different number of neurons. More than 1500 different isotopes have been identified and studied. Of these, only about 300 occur naturally. All living things have three carbon isotopes in the body carbon 12, carbon 13, and carbon 14. Some isotopes are produced in certain nuclear processes such as nuclear explosions. A nuclear reaction involves a high energy change in the atomic nucleus. In such a reaction involve a high energy change in the atomic nucleus. In such a reaction, the nucleons and the charge are conserved, that is, they are neither created nor destroyed and the therefore must be balanced. To write a balanced equation for a nuclear reaction, we must account for all protons and neutrons. a. Alpha Decay - Involves the ejection of two neutrons and two protons ( He or ) form the nucleus of a radioactive element. The overall effect of alpha particle emission is to make a nuclide more stable by reducing the number of the protons in the nucleus. - Radioactive process in which an alpha particle ( He) is emitted from a nucleus.

Because an alpha particle is the same as the nucleus of a helium-4 atom consisting of two protons and two neutrons and thus having mass number 4 and atomic number 2 - this can also be written as:

b. Beta Decay - There are other ways of making the nuclei stable fro instance, one of the neutrons could change into a proton by emitting a high-speed electron or a beta particle. The emission of an electron represented by e or is just one of the Beta Decay processes. Another beta decay mechanism results when a proton transforms into a neutron emitting an anti-electron or position. A third for of beta decay involves electron capture. Here, one of the orbital electrons in the inner shell is drawn into the nucleus, transforming a proton into a neutron. - A radioactive process in which a beta particle is emitted from a nucleus, converting a neutron into a proton. -

c. Gamma Decay - After an alpha or beta decay, a daughter nucleus may momentarily end up in a excited state. When it returns to ground state, it may emit a highenergy photon called a Gamma ray of frequency. Gamma ray photons are basically the same as light and x-ray photons, however, the term gamma ray is given to photons emitted from the nucleus during the gamma decay process. - Radioactive process in which a gamma ray is emitted to achieve a lower energy state nucleus.

HALF-LIFE If a nucleus id radioactive, how long it will take to decay? It may take a billion years or millionth of a second. Different radioisotopes decay at characteristic rates. This leads us to the concept of halflife. The half-life is the time it takes for half the atoms in a given sample to decay. As the atoms decay, the radioactivity of the sample decreases with time. The table below presents the half-lives of some common radioisotopes:

Element Hydrogen Iodine Carbon Uranium Technetium Americium Plutonium

Isotope H I C U Te Am Pu

Half-Life 12. years 2.4 hours 5 730 years 7 million years 6.0 hours 432 years 24 400 years

RADIOACTIVITY: SAVE or BREAK LIVES Radioisotopes that release alpha, beta and gamma radiation have many applications in industry, medicine, agriculture, and research. One of the most common methods of estimating the age of a substance containing carbon is known as radiocarbon dating. In the atmosphere, carbon 14 atoms combine with oxygen to produce radioactive carbon dioxide (CO). In the process of photosynthesis, this is used by plants. The food chain begins with the plants and continues through animals and humans. For estimating the age of older, nonliving materials, uranium dating is utilized. Calculating the time of decay for uranium in a rock sample can help us estimate the ages of rocks on earth. In the medical field, radioisotopes are routinely used for diagnoses and treatments which have contributed to prolonging thousands of lives. Some of these isotopes are:

1. Iodine 131- measures the activity of the thyroid gland which requires iodine for regulating metabolism. Iodine comes in tablet form, which is given to patients for the treatment of thyroid cancer. It emits beta and gamma radiations.

2. Technetium 99- concentrates in brain tissue and has been shown to detect brain tumors. If a patient has the disease, rapidly dividing cancer cells gather more tc-99 than normal cells. A radiation scans shows hotspots to locate the tumor cells. By emitting gamma rays, it dissolves to a more stable form of the same isotope. 3. Plutonium 238- emits gamma radiation which is used to power pacemakers for patients with irregular heartbeats. The sealed radioisotope is implanted to the chest. It last around 10 years before it needs to be replaced. 4. Iridium 192- has saved hundreds of breast cancer patients. Gamma rays emitted by Ir-192, once ejected into the tumor, destroy the surrounding cancer cells. 5. Cobalt 60- emits gamma rays which are used for radiation therapy. It has also been utilized in sterilizing male insects. This greatly reduced and effectively controlled the insect population that destroys food crops. 6. Gamma irradiation of foods such as pork, chicken, vegetables and fruits, destroys microorganisms and hence extends shelf life without the use of preservatives. The table below presents radiation doses for treating foods

Dose (kGy) Range 0.1 0.3

Purpose Destruction of parasites to prevent transmission to humans through food Elimination of unwanted flavors Extension of refrigerated storage life Increased digestibility; reduction in cooking time

Examples Meat

1.0 -2.0 0.05 10.0 2.5-10.0

Prawns, scallops Poultry, fish Soybeans, dehydrated vegetables

The degree of damage caused by ionizing radiation depends on the following factor: 1. Type and penetrating power of the radiation. Recall that the alpha particle is the least dangerous because it cannot penetrate the skin. However, if an alpha emitter is ingested from contaminated food or inhaled in air containing radon gas, damage to internal body tissues is severe. Alpha particles travel short distances through tissues, causing formation of more ons in the surrounding tissues. The greater the penetrating powers of a radioactive source, the weaker the ionizing power. 2. Location of the radiation, whether it I inside or outside the body. Beta and gamma particles can penetrate the outer layer of the skin and cause severe burns, skin cancer, and cataracts. When trapped inside the body, beta particles are less damaging outside the body they are more damaging. Gamma rays are more dangerous outside the body than alpha or beta particles

because of their great penetrating power. Their ionizing power is weaker, hence, inside the body they are the least dangerous. 3. Type of tissue exposed. Rapidly dividing cells are very sensitive to radiation. Such cells are found in the lymph nodes, reproductive organ and gastrointestinal tract. Cancer cells divide very rapidly and are more easily killed by radiation than are more easily killed by radiation than are healthy cells. 4. Amount and frequency of exposure. The average dose from natural sources of radiation is 0.13 rems per year. People who work radiation sources are allowed a maximum 5 rems per year.

NUCLEAR FISSION In nature, we find nuclei with atomic numbers up to 92 (uranium). The most massive of these, beyond an atomic number of 83, are unstable and gradually decay. In order to clarify and simplify the reaction equations, let us use the following symbolic notations: Z atomic number A atomic mass There is another way by which massive, unstable nuclei such as uranium and plutonium (Z= 94) can become more stable. They can split apart into two more stable fragments; this process is called nuclear fission. Usually fission occurs when a neutron collides with a large, unstable nucleus. The neutron is absorbed, making the nucleus then splits into two. Several neutrons are released. (These neutrons may go on to because the fission of other large nuclei and a chain reaction is set up. This is made use of in nuclear power stations and in nuclear power stations and in nuclear explosions.) This means that, when a single neutron collides with a uranium nucleus, fission occurs, forming isotopes of krypton and barium. And releasing three neutrons and energy is also released. For this equation to be balanced we require that both the atomic number and the atomic mass are conserved; that is, the total number of protons, and the total number of protons and neutrons, must be the same on the both sides, because we cannot increase the total number of particles. We can check for equality this way: for Z: 92=0 = 36+5 6 + (3x0) 92 = 92 for A: 235 + 1 = 92 + 141 + (3 + 1) 236 = 236

NUCLEAR FUSION Massive nuclei tend to be unstable, and they can become more stable through the process of fission. In a similar way, light nuclei can become more stable by joining together in the process of nuclear fission. The fusion of two light nuclei produces a nucleus of heavier mass. For example, two light nuclei (such as different isotopes of hydrogen) fuse to form a helium nucleus. Fusion reaction is accompanied by the release of a large amount of energy. (Fusion reactions release more energy than fission reactions). It is the source of energy that keeps stars (such as the sun) shining for billions of years.