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Induced radioactivity

Induced radioactivity is when a previously stable material has been made radioactive by exposure to specific radiation. Most radioactivity does not induce other material to become radioactive.

Neutron activation is the main form of induced radioactivity, which happens when free neutrons are captured by nuclei. This new heavier isotope can be stable or unstable (radioactive) depending on the element involved. Due to the fact that free neutrons disintegrate within minutes outside of an atomic nucleus, neutron radiation can be obtained only from nuclear disintegrations, nuclear reactions, and high-energy reactions (such as in cosmic radiation showers or accelerator collisions). Neutrons that have been slowed down through a neutron moderator (thermal neutrons) are more likely to be captured by nuclei than fast neutrons.

A less common form involves removing a neutron with the photoneutron effect. This is where a high energy photon (gamma ray) strikes a nucleus with an energy greater than the binding energy of the atom, releasing a neutron. This starts at energies at 2 MeV (for hydrogen) and most radionuclides do not produce gamma rays that powerful. The isotopes used in food irradiation (Cobalt-60, Cesium-137) both have peaks below this. Cesium-137 at 662 keV and Cobalt-60's two peaks are 1.2 and 1.3 MeV.

Some induced radioactivity is produced by background radiation, which is mostly natural. However, since natural radiation is not very intense in most places on Earth, the amount of induced radioactivity in a single location is usually very small.

The conditions inside certain types of nuclear reactors with high neutron flux can cause induced radioactivity. The components in those reactors may become highly radioactive from the radiation they are exposed to. Induced radioactivity increases the amount of nuclear waste that must eventually be disposed, but it is not referred to as radioactive contamination unless it is uncontrolled.

See also

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