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Probably s tupid question but

  1. Jun 28, 2008 #1
    probably s tupid question but......

    I was just wondering what radioactive materials typically look like? solid metal or powder? and if one handles these materials would their skin then be contaminated?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2008 #2

    mgb_phys

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    Re: probably s tupid question but......

    The look exactly like the non-radioactive version.
    Atoms come in slightly diffierent types called isotopes, most are stable, a few are radioactive but they have the same chemical and physical properties.

    Contamination is either from some of the material rubbing off and staying on your skin or from a more highly radioactive material changing the material that it's in contact with and making it radioactive.
     
  4. Jun 28, 2008 #3

    Astronuc

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    Re: probably s tupid question but......

    Radioactive materials come in various forms, the same as non-radioactive materials. They are however controlled at the source. It would be rather improbable that someone in the general public would come in contact with a radioactive substance. People who mine coal, minerals and particuarly thorium or uranium ores, and those who work with radioactive materials would certainly have a much greater risk of coming in contact with radioactive materials, BUT people in those situations wear protective clothing and gear and/or work remotely with the materials. The objective is to miminize or prevent the contact with radioactive materials.
     
  5. Jun 28, 2008 #4
    Re: probably s tupid question but......

    There is a huge difference between just being near radioactive materials that are giving off radiation, and actually being contaminated by them. Many deadly radioactive materials have radiation that would be stopped by a piece of paper.

    Radioactive fallout carried in the wind, as happened with the Chernobyl nuclear accident, can have elements like Strontium90 end up in the grass that gets eaten by cows. Folk drink the milk and it ends up in their bones because Strontium can chemically replace Calcium. There, the radiation knocks bits out of the cells DNA, messing up the reproducing, and causing cancers like leukemia. Even now, there are parts of the UK where such farming is not permitted. Yet to look at, Strontium is a silvery-grey metal, very like Calcium, and they both oxidize into white chalk.

    Most radioactive substances are not seen pure. Instead, they come mixed up as oxides or ores. A few cause blue glows when put in water. (Called Cherenkov Effect) See a picture here know that many radioactive things are in fact glowing brightly. Its just that the wavelength involved is not a visible one. Gamma radiation from Cobalt 60, used to treat cancers, is like and unseen light. It is deadly! it is just and urban myth that radioactive things visibly glow. Radioactive things do not normally glow visibly by themselves. They look exactly like their non-radioactive versions.

    Glow-in-the-dark clock faces and pointers have in the past been made with phosphrescent paint mixed with Radium. This is no longer done, but many people got very ill making them. Many gemstones like rubies and sapphires are treated with radiation to improve their colours, and have to be kept for years in lead-lined safes until they become safe to handle.
     
  6. Jun 30, 2008 #5
    Re: probably s tupid question but......

    As I understand it, a fair number of the employees of the Radium Dial Company got seriously dead due to their work...
     
  7. Jun 30, 2008 #6
    Re: probably s tupid question but......

    That was back when the effects of radiation were not clearly understood (40's). The painters would use a fine tip brush to paint radium on to the dials of airplane instruments, and would "lick" the tip of the brush to make a finer point. Radium is a bone seeker, so many of them developed leukemia and other bone/marrow diseases.
     
  8. Jun 30, 2008 #7
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