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Alpha Radiation
 

Science

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The recent Bruce Power disclosure of alpha contamination should not be alarming unless it has been ingested or inhaled.  The alpha in question was detected as airborne  The emission will pose no danger to the general public in the area since they cannot penetrate normal shielding.

Alpha particles are to be expected when working in or around nuclear power plants.  Contrary to other energy types they have relatively large mass, but travel at only about 5% of the speed of light limiting their penetration.

They do not penetrate normal human skin, but could be absorbed if inhaled or ingested and this may lead to cancers of the lung and genetic defects. 

Many of us live within a few meters of alpha particles.  Many smoke detectors use them and disposal of them in land fills or in proximity to children should be avoided. 

In smoke detectors, alpha emission across a small gap ionizes air and a small current is passed continuously across the gap. When smoke particles 'swarm' around this gap, they interfere with the current flow and the detector 'howls'.  Low penetration makes the device work.  They detectors have a long life cycle as a bonus.

 
Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus as shown above (two shades of grey)
 
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Wednesday, February 03, 2010