Saturday, July 5, 2008

JJNN 41 July 5th, 2008

Welcome again to JJNN for Saturday July 5th, 2008. Today I will open the "oopps" file.

The original news story is given here. There are few different places and times you never want to hear a person say "oopps." A good example is during a major surgery or from piano movers when they have the piano hanging a couple of stories off the ground. Another time you never want to hear "oopps" is when people are dealing with radioactive materials. Depending on the material, radioactive materials stored in the wrong place can cause a lot of damage depending on the amount of the material.

Before getting into the story I want to talk about the different types of radioactive materials. A radioactive material is a material with an unstable nucleus that goes about loosing energy by emitting either energy or particles in the process of radioactive decay. There are many different ways for a material to go about radioactive decay. The first one is alpha decay. In alpha decay an alpha particle (2 neutrons and 2 protons: the nucleus of a helium atom) is ejected from the nucleus of the decaying atom. This actually changes the decaying atom into a different type of atom. The next mode of decay is called beta decay. In this form of decay the nucleus releases an electron (which is an negatively charged particle). And than there is gamma decay in which the nucleus releases a high energy photon. There are more ways for a nucleus to undergo decay, but these are the basic ones. Different materials go though different types of radioactive decay.

Radiation can be used for both "good" and "evil." Other blogs and text books have gone into all that before so I don't really want to talk about that. I will get back into the news story. It seems that on Friday some workers in Japan's National Institute for Fusion Science found 10 grams of uranium oxide in an envelope that no one knew about. Uranium oxide releases gamma rays.

The uranium oxide was found in a cardboard box surrounded by a lot of different papers. The paper and the box actually blocked the gamma rays so they envelope was never found. But, when the office that contained the box was cleaned and the envelope taken out of the box it had a reading of .8 micro-sieverts, not a whole lot of radiation.

You may be wondering how the radioactive material got into the box in the first place. Well it turns out that when a professor that worked in Nagoya University retired he moved to Japan's National Institute for Fusion Science. The professor retired in 1964 and his stuff was moved in 1997. Apparently he never bothered to open that box because there was the uranium oxide waiting for someone to find it. It is only 10 grams, but still that is a huge "oopps.

Any way, it is now time for the word of the day. Today's word is 放射性物質(ほうしゃせいぶっしつ). It is pronounced houshasei-busshitsu and means radioactive material. You may not know it from my writing on nuclear topics, but I got my degree in physics with a focus in nuclear physics. I only really studied naturally forming radioactive sources, so I never studied things like nuclear weapons or things like that, but I don't see the use in studying about stuff like that any way.

That's it for today. See you next time at JJNN.

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