Radioactive Pollution [chapter]

Sigmund F. Zakrzewski
2002 Environmental Toxicology  
Radiation that, on passage through matter, produces ions by knocking electrons out of their orbits is called ionizing radiation. This radiation is produced through decomposition of unstable, naturally occurring or synthetic elements referred to as radionuclides. The four types of radiation are ∝-particles, β-particles, γ-rays, and neutrons. The ∝-particles have a mass of two protons and two neutrons and a charge of +2; β -particles are electrons with a mass of 0.00055 atomic mass unit (amu) and
more » ... mass unit (amu) and a charge of –1; γ -rays and X-rays are high-frequency electromagnetic waves with no mass and no charge. The difference between γ -rays and X-rays is that γ -rays occur naturally, whereas X-rays are generated. In addition, γ -rays are of higher frequency than X-rays. Release of an ∝ -particle leads to the formation of a daughter element with an atomic number 2 units lower and an atomic weight 4 units lower than that of the parent nuclide. Similarly, release of a β -particle from the nucleus causes conversion of a neutron to a proton, producing a daughter element with the same atomic weight as the parent nuclide but with its atomic number increased by 1 unit. Neutron radiation does not occur naturally and is released only from synthetic radionuclides. Neutrons, which have no charge, are formed from protons. This conversion is accompanied by the release of an orbital electron from the atom. Neutrons produce ions indirectly, by collisions with hydrogen atoms. The impact knocks out protons, which in turn produce ions on passage through matter. Capture of a neutron forms an isotope of the parent nuclide with its atomic weight increased by 1 unit. The mode of action of particles (∝ and β ) varies from that of photons (γ - and X-rays). When ∝- or β -particles travel through matter, their electric charges (positive or negative) cause ionization of the atoms in the matter. This is called a direct effect. Whereas the track of ∝- particles is short and straight, β -particles scatter, frequently producing a wavy track. Gamma- and X-rays act indirectly.
doi:10.1093/oso/9780195148114.003.0018 fatcat:yxlyd6b4vramdliryp73vovwdu