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Decay

An unstable (radioactive) nucleus can become stable by emitting particles and energy - a process called "decay". These particles or energy (in the form of electromagnetic waves) are collectively called radiation. The radiation emitted can either be alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays or neutrons.

During the decay process of a radioactive material, the total number of that nuclei decreases with time. The time it takes for half of its original amount to decay is called the half-life. Each radionuclide has a characteristic half-life. The half-lives of radionuclides may vary from millionths of a second to millions of years.

Half-lives of radionuclides

Radionuclide
Half-life
Radon-219
4 seconds
Potassium-38
7.6 minutes
Selenium-73
7.2 hours
Iodine-131
8 days
Cobalt-60
5.26 years
Caesium-137
30 years
Carbon-14
5,730 years
Iodine-129
15,700,000 years
Uranium-235
703,800,000 years
Potassium-40
1,277,000,000 years

After one half-life, the level of radioactivity of a radioactive material is halved, after two half-lives, it is reduced to one quarter and so on.

Assume that we have 12,800 radioactive nuclei at the start. Let's see what happens after several half-lives.

 

 

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Last revision date: <19 Dec 2012>