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Radiation Information - Carbon Dating

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Radiation Information

Carbon Dating

          Radiocarbon dating has been one of the most significant discoveries in 20th century science. Renfrew (1973) said 'the radiocarbon revolution'. Oakley (1979) said, “its development meant an almost complete re-writing of the evolution and cultural emergence of the human species.”

The radiocarbon method was developed by a team of scientists led by ProfessorWillard F. Libby of the University of Chicago


         Today, there are over 130 radiocarbon dating laboratories <http://www.radiocarbon.org/Info/> around the world producing radiocarbon assays for the scientific community. The C14 technique has been and continues to be applied and used in many, many different jobs including hydrology, atmospheric science, oceanography, geology, palaeoclimatology, archaeology and biomedicine.

       There are three principal isotopes of carbon which occur naturally - C12, C13 (both stable) and C14 (unstable or radioactive). One carbon 14 atom exists in nature for every 1,000,000,000,000 C12 atoms in living material. The radiocarbon method is based on the rate of decay of the radioactive or unstable carbon isotope 14 (14C), which is formed in the upper atmosphere through the effect of cosmic ray neutrons upon nitrogen 14. The reaction is:

14N + n => 14C + p

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Power Generation

      Nuclear power plants are fuelled by uranium, a naturally occurring element found in the Rocky Mountains and in countries such as Canada, Australia and South Africa. The nearly infinite energy that is stored in uranium atoms makes nuclear power possible.

       The interaction between three "heavy" elements - two types of uranium and a form of plutonium -- creates a chain reaction that can be harnessed to generate electricity. The nuclear reaction generates heat that is used to boil water to create steam to drive a turbine to generate electricity. Like fossil fuels, uranium is a finite non-renewable resource.

        Some of the most serious impacts linked to the generation of electricity on land can be linked to nuclear plants. Where the amount of solid wastes generated at nuclear plants is small, these radioactive wastes pose health risks that are more than that of any other source of electricity. It is quite possible that these radioactive wastes will be stored for a century or more at existing nuclear plant sites, an idea that may stop any future re-uses of these contaminated lands.

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      Nuclear medicine tests (also known as scans, examinations, or procedures) are safe and painless. In a nuclear medicine test, the radioactive material is introduced into the body by injection, swallowing, or inhalation. Different tracers are used to study different parts of the body. The amount of tracer used is carefully selected to provide the least amount of radiation exposure to the patient but ensure an accurate test. A special camera (scintillation or gamma camera) is used to take pictures of your body. The camera does this by detecting the tracer in the organ, bone, or tissue being imaged and then records this information on a computer screen or on film. Generally, nuclear medicine tests are not recommended for pregnant women because unborn babies have a greater sensitivity to radiation than children or adults.
Nuclear medical imaging procedures often find abnormalities very early in the progression of a disease, long before some medical problems are seen with other diagnostic tests. This early detection allows a disease to be treated early when there may be a more successful prognosis.

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