MadSci Network: Physics

Re: Does a radioactive material lose weight as it gives off energy

Date: Mon Feb 13 13:55:52 2006
Posted By: Bernadette Baca, Health Physicist, Division of Reactor Safety
Area of science: Physics
ID: 1137771626.Ph

To begin, most radioactive material does lose weight as it decays.  When 
radioactive material decays, it does so through a loss of energy, 
particles, or a combination of energy and particles.  In addition, many of 
the particles emitted from the radioactive material will have significant 
energies as they leave the atom.  With heavier elements such as uranium 
and plutonium, they decay by the combined loss of various particles and 
energy - and not just energy alone.  

The simple statement of E = mc2 does work; however, you also will need to 
know all the various combinations of energy and mass that are lost to make 
the numbers turn out correct.  I wish I could provide a "simple" but 
detailed answer; however, it is not that easy.  There are binding 
energies, decay energies, particle emissions, the energies of the emitted 
particles, etc that need to be added into the equation to account for all 
the energy and mass lost during radioactive decay.

These two books were helpful to me in my early year studies of nuclear 
engineering and might be of use in fine tuning your mathematical 

1.  Arthur Foster and Robert Wright, Jr; "Basic Nuclear Engineering, Third 
Edition;" Allyn & Bacon Inc.
2.  James Turner; "Atoms, Radiation, and Radiation Protection;" Pergamon 

Some internet sites that may be of help are:

Good luck in finding all the information you need to balance out your 
equations and get the expected answers.

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