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A radioactive material is a material that emits radiation inform of alpha, beta or gamma particles or rays. It can be a Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM) or Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM). NORM and TENORM consist of materials enriched with radioactive elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium and any of their decay products, such as radium and radon.

Natural radioactive materials are in low concentration in Earth’s crust and can find their way to the surface through human activities such as mining, oil and gas exploration or through leakage of radon gas to the atmosphere. TENORM can be produced in industries example coal burning in power plants to produce coal ash.

The characteristics of NORM vary depending on the nature of the waste. They may be created in crystalline form, which is brittle and thin, and can cause flaking to occur in tubulars. NORM scales may be a white or a brown solid, dry flaky substance.

Uses of radioactive materials

  • Radioactive materials are used for diagnostic radiology, radiation therapy and radiopharmaceuticals. Example; Cobalt 60 is used in treating cancer.
  • Radioactive materials are used in producing several products like;
  • Plastic wrap, radial tires, coffee filters and smoke detectors. Example is Americium 241 which is used in manufacturing home smoke detectors.

Types of radiation emitted by radioactive materials

  • Alpha particles
  • Beta particles
  • Gamma rays
  • X-rays
  • Neutrons

Alpha particles

Alpha particles consists of two protons and two neutrons. It is positively charged because of absence of electrons. When emitted from the nucleus, the positive charge causes it to strip electrons from the nearby atoms as it passes. Alpha particles are the slowest of different types of radiation due to their relatively heavy mass. Hence they can only travel a few inches in the air. They can be shielded with a sheet of paper.

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