P2 - Nuclear Radiation, its Uses, and its Dangers

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  • when unstable nucleus decays, it gives off nuclear radiation
  • radioactive materials give off nuclear radiation over time
  • 3 kinds of radiation: alpha, beta, gamma
  • cause ionisation, which means atoms lose or gain electrons and turn them into ions
  • when losing electrons, it becomes positive ion
  • when gaining electron, becomes negative ion
  • ionisation can cause reactions between atoms
  • in human cells, ionisation can cause cancer
  • high doses of radiation can kill cells
  • depends on how far it can penetrate as to how much damage is made
  • further the penetration before hitting atoms, the less ionisation caused
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Alpha, Beta, Gamma

Alpha particles;

  • big, heavy, slow moving
  • 2 protons, 2 neutrons
  • don't penetrate very far into materials
  • strongly ionising

Beta particles;

  • just electrons
  • small, fast moving
  • penetrate moderately, so moderately ionising

Gamma rays;

  • type of EM radiation
  • no mass, no charge, but high frequency
  • penetrate long way into material, so weakly ionising
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Uses of Nuclear Radiation

Alpha radiation used in;

  • smoke detectors.

Beta radiation used in;

  • tracers (medically)
  • thickness control for paper.

Gamma radiation used;

  • to treat cancer
  • to sterilise medical equipment
  • to test non-destructively.
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Nuclear Power

  • nuclear power stations use nuclear fission (where atoms in fuel are split in two to release heat energy)
  • heat is then taken away by water, and the steam turns the turbines that run the generator.
  • advantages of nuclear power;
    • lots of energy
    • little carbon dioxide production
    • takes much less uranium to produce the power
    • nuclear fuel reasonably cheap
    • lots of uranium in ground
  • disadvantages of nuclear power;
    • expensive to build power stations
    • takes longer to set up a station for nuclear power than for fossil fuels
    • causes pollution to process
    • risk of leaks or catastrophe
    • radioactive waste is dangerous and difficult to dispose of
    • expensive to decommision power stations
    • non-renewable
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Danger from Radioactive Material

  • radioactive material requires safe storage
  • short exposure times advised
  • never use skin contact
  • full protective suits
  • lead lined suits, lead barriers, lead screens, etc
  • remote controlled robot arms to carry out tasks
  • radioactive waste remains for thousands of years
  • could be used by terrorists
  • could get into drinking water
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