Science Questions

When atoms become radioactive, what kind of radiation comes out?

Sun, 10th Apr 2011

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Question

Teo Gibson, Facebook asked:

When atoms become radioactive, what kind of radiation comes out? gamma rays? x-rays? light?

Answer

We put this question to Dr Ian Farnan from the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University:

The caesium-137 which is probably the one that people are most worried about because it has this half-life of about 30 years.  That would be a beta emitter.  Most of the elements that weíre worried about in fact are beta emitters, so that's the problem.  The thing that you need to worry about is the half-life.  So the iodine which has been released has about an 8-day half-life, so that will mean after about 40 days, say, it will be at 3% of its initial value and within 10 half-lifes, itís down to a thousandth of its initial value or amount.  So thatís something that dissipates very quickly whereas the caesium will stay around for a lot longer. But as I say, thereíll probably be less caesium than there is iodine.

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