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Common beta emitters

Additional recommended knowledge


Fission products


Strontium-90 is a commonly used beta emitter used in industrial sources, it has also been used as a thermal power source in radioisotope thermoelectric generator power packs. Such power packs were deployed by the Soviets for use at remote sites such as lighthouses. These powerpacks are of concern as each contains more Strontium-90 than that released from the Chernobyl fire.

Strontium-89 is a short lived beta emitter which has been used as a treatment for bone tumors, this is used in palliative care in terminal cancer cases. Both Strontium-89 and Strontium-90 are fission products.

Neutron activation products


Tritium is commonly used as a radiotracer in research and in trasers and some "glow in the dark" paints, this is a beta emitter which has a very low energy. The electrons from beta emission from tritium are so low in energy that a Geiger counter can not be used to detect them. Note that one of the first-aid treatments for the intake of tritium (as tritiated water) in a human is to give the human plenty of water to drink. Many men find it very difficult to drink 10 pints of water per day, so in some cases persons who have been exposed to tritiated water have been advised to drink ten pints of beer. The alcohol in the beer also increases the rate of urine production which helps to wash the tritium oxide from the body.[citation needed]

Tritium can also be found in metal work in the form of a tritiated rust, this can be treated by heating the steel in a furnace to drive off the tritium containing water. Tritium can be made by the neutron irradiation of lithium.


Carbon-14 is also commonly used as a beta source in research, it is commonly used as a radiotracer in organic compounds. While the energy of the beta particles is higher than those of tritium they are still quite low in energy. For instance the walls of a glass bottle is able to absorb it. Carbon-14 is made by the np reaction of nitrogen-14 with neutrons. It is generated in the atmosphere by the action of cosmic rays on nitrogen. Also a large amount was generated by the neutrons from the atmospheric nuclear bomb tests which were conducted in the 20th century. The specific activity of atmospheric carbon increased as a result of the nuclear testing but due to the exchange of carbon between the air and other parts of the carbon cycle it has now returned to a very low value. For small amounts of carbon-14 one of the favoured disposal method is to burn the waste in a medical waste incinerator, the idea is that by dispersing the radioactivity over a very wide area the threat to any one human is very small.


Phosphorus-32 is a short lived high energy beta emitter, which is used in research in radiotracers. It can be used in DNA research. Phosphorus-32 can be made by the neutron irradiation (np reaction) of sulfur-32 or from Phosphorus-31 by neutron capture.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Common_beta_emitters". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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