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Energy Glossary

Radioactivity (TODO)

Radioactivity describes a set of nuclear processes which emit radioactive particles or energetic electromagnetic radiation.

Types of radioactivity

The major types of radioactivity are

  • Alpha particles/Alpha radiation:
    The radioactive decay of atomic nuclei leads to a new nucleus which looses two protons and two neutrons. These particles form the alpha particle which is a helium nucleus.
  • Beta particles/Beta radiation:
    A type of radioactive decay where one neutron is converted into a proton and an electron (and an anti-Neutrino). The proton stays in the nucleus while the highly energetic electron is emitted by the atom.
  • Gamma radiation/Gamma decay:
    Gamma radation is emitted during the changes of the state of the nucleus. Each Alpha or Beta decay produces Gamma radiation.
  • Neutrons:
    Neutrons are released during nuclear fission processes. Neutron radiation can be observed in all nuclear (fission) reactors. These neutrons are induce new nuclear fission reactions and keep the chain reaction in nuclear reactors (and nuclear weapons) alive.
  • Ion radiation:
    Accelerated Ions and heavy nuclei are the fifth type of radioactiv radiation. These particles are useful for high selectivity cancer treatment and nuclear propulsion for spacecraft (ion propulsion engines).

Effects of radioactivity

During the interaction with matter the different types of radioactivity show various properties.

  • Alpha particles/Alpha radiation:
    Alpha particles are due to its mass relatively slow and have a charged 2+. They deposit a high amount of energy along a unit length compared to Beta particles and Gamma radiation. Alpha particles damage linving tissues and might lead to mutations of cells. These mutants might cause cancer.
  • Beta particles/Beta radiation:
    Beta particles (=electrons) are fast compared to Alpha particles with the same energy because of their low mass. Additionally they are charged -1. Beta particles have a much lower potential to damage cells / induce cancer.
  • Gamma radiation/Gamma decay:
    Gamma rays are electromagnetic waves and hence have no mass and no charge. Gamma radiation has a similar energy deposit per unit length like Beta particles.
  • Neutrons:
  • Ion radiation:

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