Decontaminating Radioactive Materials

In summary, there is no practical way to influence a particular radionuclide to neutralize its radioactivity.
  • #1
brianempson
4
0
Is there a way or process to neutralize the radioactive properties of a material (i.e. Make a radioactive substance stop ionizing it's surroundings?)

Alternatively, since the gamma radiation penetrates through materials the most, is there a way of "slowing down" the frequency (lowering the energy) of the particles/photons to such a degree that they are no longer capable of ionizing and stripping off electrons?

Apologies if my question has errors in my assumptions above, I'm generally curious.
 
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  • #2
Oops, I think I put this question in the wrong forum, sorry!
 
  • #3
brianempson said:
Oops, I think I put this question in the wrong forum, sorry!

I've moved this to the Nuclear Engineering forum. :biggrin:
 
  • #4
Drakkith said:
I've moved this to the Nuclear Engineering forum. :biggrin:
Thanks, nothing like making a mistake on your first post. :P
 
  • #5
brianempson said:
Is there a way or process to neutralize the radioactive properties of a material (i.e. Make a radioactive substance stop ionizing it's surroundings?)

Alternatively, since the gamma radiation penetrates through materials the most, is there a way of "slowing down" the frequency (lowering the energy) of the particles/photons to such a degree that they are no longer capable of ionizing and stripping off electrons?

Apologies if my question has errors in my assumptions above, I'm generally curious.
There is no way to stop a radionuclide from decaying, which is the source of the radiation. The radiation (α, β-, β+, γ) leave the nucleus with energies in keV to MeV range, which is well above the eV ionization energies. This is why we put 'shielding' around radioactive materials.

Gamma rays lose energy by interacting with electrons in atoms. Some gamma rays can be completely absorbed in a process call the photoelectric effect, some gamma will scatter off electrons losing energy in the so-called Compton effect, and other gammas (E > 1.022 MeV) may interact with nuclei producing positron-electrons pairs. The positron will find an electron and annihilate into a pair of 0.511 MeV gamma rays. High energy gamma rays can also cause some nuclei to emit neutrons (photoneutrons). Gamma rays eventually lose energy and are absorbed by electrons. In metals subject to gamma radiation, we refer to gamma heating.

Alpha particles occur in decay of a number of radionuclides heavier than Bismuth, or in some nuclear reactions in light nuclei, for example d+t fusion, which produces n and α).
 
  • #6
As Astronuc said, you can't stop something from being radioactive. If we could, then we would use that method to cause all our spent nuclear fuel to become safe and solve the nuclear waste challenge.

What we can do, is in some cases you can further irradiate a material to change it to an isotope which decays faster to a stable product or has more stable daughter products overall.
 
  • #7
Thank you for the great replies. Is there any active research on this topic or is it pretty much an unsolvable problem we have to live with?
 
  • #8
brianempson said:
Thank you for the great replies. Is there any active research on this topic or is it pretty much an unsolvable problem we have to live with?
There is no practical way to influence a particular radionuclide to neutralize its radioactivity. In most cases, e.g., a nuclear reactor, there are a large number of different radionuclides present. We might recover the unused uranium and plutonium, and recycle/reprocess it for further use. The fission products may be oxidized, calcined and vitrified, and even made into synthetic rock with characteristics similar to geologically stable minerals. It is not economical/practical to partition fission products or sort them by element and half-life.

For transuranics, there is the possibility of transmuting longer-lived radionuclides into shorter-lived radionuclides, or consume them in a so-called actinide burner.
 
  • #9
This reminds me of the latest diehard movie with their radioactivity neutralizing spray, that scene made me chuckle.
 

1. What is the purpose of decontaminating radioactive materials?

The purpose of decontaminating radioactive materials is to reduce the level of radioactive contamination on the surface of an object or material. This is important for the safety of individuals and the environment, as high levels of radiation can be harmful.

2. How does decontamination of radioactive materials work?

Decontamination of radioactive materials typically involves using physical or chemical methods to remove the radioactive particles from the surface of the material. Physical methods may include scrubbing, blasting, or sanding, while chemical methods may involve using solvents or acids to dissolve the particles.

3. What are the most common techniques for decontaminating radioactive materials?

The most common techniques for decontaminating radioactive materials include chemical decontamination, mechanical decontamination, and thermal decontamination. Chemical decontamination uses solvents or acids to dissolve the radioactive particles, mechanical decontamination involves physically removing the particles from the surface, and thermal decontamination uses heat to vaporize and remove the particles.

4. How do you determine the effectiveness of decontamination on radioactive materials?

The effectiveness of decontamination on radioactive materials is typically determined by measuring the radiation levels before and after the decontamination process. This can be done using radiation detection devices such as Geiger counters or dosimeters. The goal is to reduce the radiation levels to a safe and acceptable level.

5. Are there any risks involved in decontaminating radioactive materials?

Yes, there are risks involved in decontaminating radioactive materials. These risks include exposure to radiation, inhalation of radioactive particles, and the potential for contamination of the surrounding environment. It is important for individuals performing the decontamination to follow safety protocols and use proper protective equipment to minimize these risks.

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