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Lightning and uranium

  1. Oct 8, 2014 #1
    We say that electrons that are freed when radioactivity of radon ionizes air molecules accelerate in the electric field E produced by thunderclouds and can thus ionize other molecules if E is greater than 3 MV/m, so that more and more free electrons are produced, which leads to lightning when there is a path of free electrons from cloud to earth.

    Since radon is a product of decay of uranium, we would expect that lightning would be more frequent in parts of the world where uranium is more abundant (such as Australia), since there should be more free electrons there even when there are no clouds. Is there any evidence that this is the case?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 8, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Australia is the second driest continent, so I doubt that it has a higher than average rate of thunderstorms.
  4. Oct 8, 2014 #3


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    Alpha and Beta particles do not penetrate air more than a few cm so their presence just above the ground is not likely to have a great effect on the density of free ions in most situations. (Gamma rays have a huge range but they are not strongly ionising). I believe they use radioactive tips on some lightning conductors to encourage the corona which suppresses high power strikes on buildings.
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