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What is a radioactive decay chain?

What is a radioactive decay chain?

radioactive decay chain Stability may be achieved in a single decay, or a nucleus may decay through a series of states before it reaches a truly stable configuration, a bit like a Slinky toy stepping down a set of stairs. Each state or step will have its own unique characteristics of half-life and type of radiation to be emitted as the move is made to the next state. Much scientific effort has been devoted to unraveling these decay chains, not only to achieve a basic understanding of nature, but also to design nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. The unusually complicated decay of uranium 238, for example–the primary source of natural radioactivity on earth–proceeds as follows:

U-238 emits an alphaThorium 234 emits a beta

Protactinium 234 emits a beta

Uranium 234 emits an alpha

Thorium 230 emits an alpha

Radium 226 emits an alpha

Radon 222 emits an alpha

Polonium 218 emits an alpha

Lead 214 emits a beta

Bismuth 214 emits a beta

Polonium 214 emits an alpha

Lead 210 emits a beta

Bismuth 210 emits a beta

Polonium 210 emits an alpha

Lead 206, which is stable

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