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1854 Radioactive beams

ent beam species; the disadvantages are that high beam quality,
purity, and intensity are difficult to obtain. See NUCLEAR FUSION;

Radioactive fallout Whenever radioactive materials

become airborne, either from a nuclear device detonation or
from a nuclear release accident, the resultant contaminated
atmospheric plume will ultimately return radioactivity to the

Earth’s surface. Material settling from the radioactive plume

and its subsequent surface deposition is known as radioactive
direct wave Radioactive materials consist of unstable atoms which emit
ve gamma rays, beta particles, or alpha particles. These emissions—
d wa rays and particles—are unique in that they cause ionizations
flecte in neighboring atoms. The energy of the emitted radiation and
- re
und subsequent ionizations can be a cause of concern if absorbed
surface wave gro by living systems. See ALPHA PARTICLES; BETA PARTICLES; GAMMA
Fissioning of uranium and plutonium produces isotopes of
about 70 different atoms; each atom may have several different
Possible transmission paths between antennas. isotopic forms. Examples of daughter products are the isotopes
of elemental strontium, which are efficiently produced in nuclear
fission. The isotope strontium-90 (90Sr) has a 28-year half-life,
bending), the transmission loss is increased. See REFRACTION OF while 89Sr is produced in slightly higher concentrations but has
WAVES. [K.B.] a half-life of only 50 days. In addition to the differing half-lives,
each isotope emits a unique radiation spectrum. The two stron-
tium isotopes emit beta particles of different energies. Other iso-
Radioactive beams Beams of radioactive (unstable) topes such as cesium-137 (137Cs, half-life 30 years) and iodine-
nuclei. In several nuclear physics laboratories, a capability exists
131 (131I, half-life 8 days) emit both beta particles and gamma
to produce such beams and, before these nuclei spontaneously
decay, use them to gain insight into the reactions on and struc-
Atmospheric fallout can be scavenged by rainfall. Wet deposi-
ture of nuclei never before accessible. Radioactive beams are
tion, involving washing out of atmospheric fallout, can increase
particularly useful to study stellar explosions such as novae, su-
local deposition patterns. This was the case following the Cher-
pernovae, and x-ray bursts. These explosions are some of the
nobyl accident, where local rainfall in Belarus, Ukraine, and Rus-
most catastrophic events in the universe, generating enormous
sia washed high concentrations of radioactive iodine and cesium
amounts of energy while synthesizing the elements that make up
out of the plume and onto the spring pasture. Radioactive iodine
lifeforms and the world. These spectacular explosions involve,
and cesium are relatively volatile and were more easily “boiled”
and in some cases are driven by, reactions where the atomic
out of Chernobyl’s burning core. Cesium is a congener of potas-
nuclei of hydrogen (protons) and helium (alpha particles) fuse
sium and therefore is fairly uniformly distributed throughout the
with (are captured by) radioactive isotopes of heavier elements
body once inhaled or ingested. The result is a whole-body radia-
to form new elements. The capability to produce beams of ra-
tion dose. Furthermore, the energetic gamma-ray emission from
dioactive nuclei allows direct measurements of these reactions, 137
Cs adds a source of external radiation from surface deposits
providing crucial information needed to theoretically model cat-
on the ground. These factors, in addition to its long half-life and
aclysmic stellar events and to understand the origin of many
relatively high concentration, make 137Cs the major long-term
chemical elements.
contamination concern from fallout. For example, although the
One approach to radioactive beam production is the isotope
Chernobyl accident occurred in 1986, precautions must still be
separator on-line (ISOL) technique. One accelerator bombards
taken against potential intake doses of 137Cs: inhalation doses
a target with a beam of stable nuclei, and a small number of the
can occur when burning wood from contaminated trees, and
radioactive atoms of interest are produced through nuclear re-
consuming mushrooms grown in contaminated forests delivers
actions. These atoms are transported, by various techniques,
an ingestion dose.
including thermal diffusion, to an ion source where they are
Levels of 131I in the plumes of radioactive fallout are of par-
ionized (removing or adding electrons to give atoms an elec-
ticular concern. With an 8 day half-life and a strong beta- and
trical charge) and extracted. The radioactive ions are then mass-
gamma-ray emission, this radionuclide concentrates almost ex-
separated from other ions and accelerated to energies needed
clusively in the thyroid gland. Recent dose reconstructions in
for nuclear physics experiments by a second accelerator. The
the United States show that the 1950s and 1960s fallout ra-
ISOL technique can produce very high beam qualities, purities,
diation doses from 131I were large enough to have increased
and intensities; the disadvantages are that only a few radioac-
the risk for thyroid cancer, especially in children. See THYROID
tive beam species can be generated from each combination of
production target and primary beam, and that beams with short
In 1955, the United Nations established the Scientific Com-
lifetimes (less than 1 s) are difficult to produce. See ION SOURCES;
mittee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, due to concern over
possible risks from fallout. It issues comprehensive reports about
A complementary radioactive beam production technique is
every 5 years and has collected and documented the world’s
projectile fragmentation. When a high-energy beam of stable
literature on radioactive fallout and, more recently, on possible
heavy ions passes through a thin target, the beam particles (pro-
radiation consequences. See ATOMIC BOMB; NUCLEAR EXPLOSION;
jectiles) can break up into fragments—some of which are the
radioactive isotope of interest. The desired fragments are then
mass-separated from other ions and steered toward a target to
undergo the reaction of interest. The projectile fragmentation
technique can produce beams of very short lifetimes (10−6 s or Radioactive minerals Minerals that contain uranium
less), and the same setup can be used to produce many differ- (U) or thorium (Th) as an essential component of their chemical