for Radionuclide Users

Types When an undergoes , it emits one or more forms of ionizing radiation, defined as radiation with sufficient energy to ionize (i.e., remove orbital from) the with which it interacts. Ionizing radiation can consist of high speed subatomic ejected from the nucleus or electromagnetic radiation (i.e., ) emitted by either the nucleus or orbital electrons.

Alpha Particles Certain radionuclides of high atomic mass (e.g., 226Ra, 238U, 239Pu) decay by the emission of alpha particles. These alpha particles are tightly bound units of 2 and 2 protons each (i.e., 4He nucleus). Emission of an alpha from the nucleus results in a decrease of two units of (Z) and four units of mass number (A). Alpha particles are emitted with discrete energies characteristic of the particular transformation from which they originate. In other words, all alpha particles from a particular radionuclide transformation will have identical energies.

Beta Particles A nucleus with a slightly unstable ratio of neutrons to protons may decay through the emission of a high speed called a . This results in a net change of one unit of atomic number (Z). The beta particles emitted by a specific radionuclide range in energy from near 0 up to a maximum value characteristic of the particular transformation.

Gamma Rays A nucleus which is in an excited state may emit one or more photons (i.e., particles of electromagnetic radiation) of discrete energies. The emission of these gamma rays does not alter the number of protons or neutrons in the nucleus but instead has the effect of moving the nucleus from a higher to a lower energy state. emission frequently follows , , and other nuclear decay processes.

X-rays X-rays are also part of the and are distinguished from gamma rays only by their source (i.e., orbital electrons rather than the nucleus). X-rays are emitted with discrete energies by electrons as they shift orbits following certain types of nuclear decay processes. A continuous energy spectrum of x-rays called may also be emitted by charged particles(e.g., beta particles) as they decelerate near atomic nuclei.

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