Opinions on Radionuclide

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Not to be confused with radionucleotide.

A radionuclide or radioactive nuclide is a nuclide that is radioactive. Also referred to as a radioisotope or radioactive isotope, it is an isotope with an unstable nucleus, characterized by excess energy available to be imparted either to a newly created radiation particle within the nucleus or via internal conversion. During this process, the radionuclide is said to undergo radioactive decay, resulting in the emission of gamma ray(s) and/or subatomic particles such as alpha or beta particles. These emissions constitute ionizing radiation. Many radionuclides occur naturally, and others are produced artificially, for example in nuclear reactors and cyclotrons.

There are about 650 radionuclides with half-lives longer than 60 minutes (see list of nuclides). Of these, 34 are primordial radionuclides that existed before the creation of the solar system, and there are another 50 radionuclides detectable in nature as daughters of these, or produced naturally on Earth by cosmic radiation. There is a much larger number of radionuclides, more than 2400, with decay half-lives shorter than 60 minutes. Most of these are only produced artificially, and have very short half-lives. For comparison, there are about 254 stable nuclides.

All chemical elements have radionuclides. Even the lightest element, hydrogen, has a well-known radionuclide, tritium. Elements heavier than lead, and the elements technetium and promethium, exist only as radionuclides.

Radionuclides with suitable half-lives play an important part in a number of technologies, for example ionization smoke detectors and nuclear medicine. A pharmaceutical drug made with radionuclides is called a radiopharmaceutical, and an imaging tracer made with radionuclides is called a radioactive tracer. Nuclear medicine makes use of these drugs and tracers for radiation therapy such as brachytherapy and medical imaging.

Radionuclides can also present both real and perceived dangers to health.


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