Radioactive isotopes. How they spread from the nuclear industry
at left – the many stages of the nuclear cycle – at each stage, radiation is emitted. Transport of nuclear materials goes on between each stage.
What is IONISING RADIATION?
Uranium atoms are unstable, breaking up into other atoms – radioisotopes, and giving off energy in the form of gamma rays
The 3 types of radiation (alpha, beta and gamma) are different in the way that they can travel through substances . (Alpha rays do not penetrate the body, but can be breathed in, or swallowed, and remain in the body.) The radioactive isotopes also last for different lengths of time (see table below left)
Radioactive isotopes vary in the time they take to break down.This length of time is measured in “half-lives” – counting the time it takes for an isotope to lose half of its radioactivity.
Some of the many toxic isotopes that are regularly released from nuclear reactors into water and air are Radioactive iodine 131, (half-life of 8 days), & Strontium 90 (half-life 28 days), Cesium 137 (half-life 30 years) is gradually released from ageing reactors.
Plutonium 239, created in nuclear reactors, is an alpha particle with a half-life of 24.400 years
What are “high level” and “low level” wastes?
Where exactly do these radioactive elements come from?
High-level waste consists mostly of milling tailings, spent nuclear reactor fuel from both commerical power plants and military facilities, as well as reprocessed materials .
Low-level waste includes the remainder of radioactive wastes and materials generated in power plants, such as contaminated reactor water, plus those wastes created in medical laboratories, hospitals, and industry. Such wastes come in many ways, including – ” protective clothing of people in contact with radioactive materials, old medical radiation equipment from hospitals and clinics.
All can emit radiation for hundreds of thousands of years. It spreads through the environment mainly through water. Buried wastes leak into groundwater.
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