radioactive series

Any of four sets of unstable heavy atomic nuclei that undergo a series of alpha decay and beta decay until a stable nucleus is achieved. The natural series are the thorium series, the uranium series, and the actinium series. These are headed by naturally occurring species of unstable nuclei that have half-lives comparable to the age of the earth. The fourth set, the neptunium series, is headed by neptunium-237, which has a half-life of 2 million years. Its members do not occur naturally but are artificially produced by nuclear reactions and have short half-lives.

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Descent of radioactive materials from the atmosphere to the earth. Radioactivity in the atmosphere may arise from natural causes such as cosmic rays as well as from nuclear explosions and atomic reactor operations. The explosion of nuclear weapons leads to three types of fallout: local, tropospheric, and stratospheric. The first, intense but relatively short-lived, occurs as larger radioactive particles are deposited near the site of the explosion. Tropospheric fallout occurs when the finer particles enter the troposphere, and it spreads over a larger area in the month after the explosion. Stratospheric fallout, made of fine particles in the stratosphere, may continue years after the explosion, and the distribution is nearly worldwide. Many different radioisotopes are formed during a nuclear explosion, but only long-lived isotopes (e.g., cesium-137, strontium-90) are deposited as stratospheric fallout.

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Property exhibited by certain types of matter of emitting radiation spontaneously. The phenomenon was first reported in 1896 by Henri Becquerel for a uranium salt, and it was soon found that all uranium compounds are radioactive due to the uranium's radioactivity. In 1898 Marie Curie and her husband discovered two other naturally occurring, strongly radioactive elements, radium and polonium. The radiation is emitted by unstable atomic nuclei (see nucleus) as they attempt to become more stable. The main processes of radioactivity are alpha decay, beta decay, and gamma decay. In 1934 it was discovered that radioactivity could be induced in ordinary matter by artificial transmutation.

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According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, mixed waste (MW) is a waste type defined as follows; "MW contains both hazardous waste (as defined by RCRA and its amendments) and radioactive waste (as defined by AEA and its amendments). It is jointly regulated by NRC or NRC's Agreement States and EPA or EPA's RCRA Authorized States. The fundamental and most comprehensive statutory definition is found in the Federal Facilities Compliance Act (FFCA) where Section 1004(41) was added to RCRA: "The term 'mixed waste' means waste that contains both hazardous waste and source, special nuclear, or byproduct material subject to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954."

Mixed waste is much more expensive to manage and dispose of than waste that is solely radioactive. Waste generators can avoid higher chargeback costs by eliminating or minimizing the volume of mixed waste generated.

US EPA Hazardous Waste Definition

The EPA defines hazardous waste as the following: A subset of solid wastes that pose substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment and meet any of the following criteria identified 40 CFR 260 and 261:

  • It is specifically listed as a hazardous waste by EPA
  • It exhibits one or more of the characteristics of hazardous waste (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and/or toxicity);
  • It is generated by the treatment of hazardous waste; or is contained in a hazardous waste.


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