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21.E: Exercises

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    21.1: Radioactivity

    Conceptual Problems

    1. Why are many radioactive substances warm to the touch? Why do many radioactive substances glow?
    2. Describe the differences between nonionizing and ionizing radiation in terms of the intensity of energy emitted and the effect each has on an atom or molecule after collision. Which nuclear decay reactions are more likely to produce ionizing radiation? nonionizing radiation?
    3. Would you expect nonionizing or ionizing radiation to be more effective at treating cancer? Why?
    4. Historically, concrete shelters have been used to protect people from nuclear blasts. Comment on the effectiveness of such shelters.
    5. Gamma rays are a very high-energy radiation, yet α particles inflict more damage on biological tissue. Why?
    6. List the three primary sources of naturally occurring radiation. Explain the factors that influence the dose that one receives throughout the year. Which is the largest contributor to overall exposure? Which is the most hazardous?
    7. Because radon is a noble gas, it is inert and generally unreactive. Despite this, exposure to even low concentrations of radon in air is quite dangerous. Describe the physical consequences of exposure to radon gas. Why are people who smoke more susceptible to these effects?
    8. Most medical imaging uses isotopes that have extremely short half-lives. These isotopes usually undergo only one kind of nuclear decay reaction. Which kind of decay reaction is usually used? Why? Why would a short half-life be preferred in these cases?
    9. Which would you prefer: one exposure of 100 rem, or 10 exposures of 10 rem each? Explain your rationale.

    Conceptual Answers

    1. Ionizing radiation is higher in energy and causes greater tissue damage, so it is more likely to destroy cancerous cells.
    1. Ten exposures of 10 rem are less likely to cause major damage.

    Numerical Problems

    1. A 2.14 kg sample of rock contains 0.0985 g of uranium. How much energy is emitted over 25 yr if 99.27% of the uranium is 238U, which has a half-life of 4.46 × 109 yr, if each decay event is accompanied by the release of 4.039 MeV? If a 180 lb individual absorbs all of the emitted radiation, how much radiation has been absorbed in rads?
    2. There is a story about a “radioactive boy scout” who attempted to convert thorium-232, which he isolated from about 1000 gas lantern mantles, to uranium-233 by bombarding the thorium with neutrons. The neutrons were generated via bombarding an aluminum target with α particles from the decay of americium-241, which was isolated from 100 smoke detectors. Write balanced nuclear reactions for these processes. The “radioactive boy scout” spent approximately 2 h/day with his experiment for 2 yr. Assuming that the alpha emission of americium has an energy of 5.24 MeV/particle and that the americium-241 was undergoing 3.5 × 106 decays/s, what was the exposure of the 60.0 kg scout in rads? The intrepid scientist apparently showed no ill effects from this exposure. Why?

    21.E: Exercises is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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