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Evaluation of Products and Technologies Assignment


Topic One
In medicine, radioisotopes are bonded with chemical compounds to form radioactive tracers,
which are then injected into the patient's bloodstream. The radiation emitted by the tracers allow
doctors to obtain images of organ systems, facilitating early and accurate diagnosis of disease.
However, to avoid radioactive contamination, care must be taken in the storage, use, and disposal
of this material. Consider the costs associated with its use. Choose a radioisotope to describe and
evaluate its environmental impact against its benefits to society.

Radioisotopes or radionuclides are atoms that have excess nuclear energy, thereby making it
unstable. This excess energy can be used in one of three ways: emitted from the nucleus as
gamma radiation; transferred to one of its electrons to release it as a conversion electron; or used
to create and emit a new particle (alpha particle or beta particle) from the nucleus. During those
processes, the radionuclide is said to undergo radioactive decay.
Radioisotopes are used in variety of ways in Science and industry to improve treatments,
facilities and productivity.
They are key in medicine, sterilization, food preservation, luminescent lighting and in fusion
Despite that, radioactive isotopes have negative impacts on our society, they can cause damage
to healthy tissues and cause serious health problems including cancer if they are not used or
stored safely. The storage and disposal of radioactive waste is quite an expensive project and is
not yet fully developed.
For this research I will be focusing on Tritium (3H), the cost associated with it and the
environmental impact against its benefits to the society.

Isotopes are elements that have a same atomic number (same number of protons in the nucleus)
but of different atomic mass (the total number of protons and neutrons in the nucleus). There are
three isotopes of hydrogen. Hydrogen in its ordinary form or protium (1H, has an atomic mass of
1) and is the most abundant element in the universe. Heavy hydrogen, also known as deuterium
(2H, has an atomic mass of 2) and Radioactive hydrogen, also known as tritium (3H or T, has an
atomic mass of 3).
Naturally, tritium is formed when cosmic rays interact with nitrogen or deuterium in the upper
atmosphere. It is formed with carbon and comes down as rain.
 It can be produced by neutron irradiation of 6Li
Li + 1n  4He + 3T
 It can also be produced in heavy water moderated reactors. This reaction has a quite small
absorption cross section, making heavy water a good neutron moderator and relatively
little tritium is produced.
 High-energy neutrons irradiating boron-10 will also occasionally produce tritium
B + 1n  24HE +3T

Tritium has a half-life of approximately 12.32 years and it is a beta emitter. The energy of the
beta particles produced have an average energy of 5.7 KeV because the emitted electrons have
relatively low energy, the detection efficiency by scintillation counting is rather low.
Tritium gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and radioactive. it decays to 3He by emitting an
electron and antineutrino from the nucleus. It readily diffuses through porous substances such as
rubber and can also diffuse through metals which makes it difficult to confine.

It has the same chemical properties as deuterium and ordinary hydrogen. Tritium, just like
hydrogen has the ability to exist in a gaseous form or more commonly, in the form of water.
However, the neutrons in the tritium nucleus increase the attractive strong nuclear force when
brought close enough to another atomic nucleus.

tritium atoms have a tendency to replace one or both of the stable hydrogen atoms in water to
become a part of the water molecule. The resulting compound is known as tritiated water, with
the chemical formula HTO or T2O.

Tritium can be used for:
 Radio tracing
 Self-powered lighting: the beta particles emitted by the radioactive decay of
tritium causes chemicals called phosphors to glow.
 It is an important component in nuclear weapons. It enhances efficiency and yield
of fission bombs.
 It can be used as a beta voltaic device to create an atomic battery to generate
 It can also be used an important fuel for controlled nuclear fusion.
 It is used in biomedical researches

Though tritium has quite a number of advantages, it also has an equal number of disadvantages.

Tritium exists throughout our worldwide environment in the atmosphere, ground water, soil,
rivers, lakes, streams, and oceans from both natural and man-made production. These are
generally limited to those that occur within a nuclear reactor, during the detonation of a nuclear
weapon, or in particle accelerators. Tritium’s concentration in the environment is ever-changing,
increasing with natural processes and human activities and decreasing through radioactive decay.

Tritium in the form of water (for example HTO, DTO and T2O) which is just like water and can
move alongside water molecules can be absorbed through the skin and in the lungs from inhaled
gases. It can be retained in the body and remains with a biological half-life of approximately 10
days. Due to the body’s ready absorption of tritium in the form of tritiated water, exposure to
tritiated water in air is far more hazardous than exposure to gaseous tritium (HT, T2 and DT).
Tritium does not have chemically toxic effects and its potential to be hazardous to human health
is solely because it emits ionizing radiation (the beta particle). This radiation exposure may very
slightly increase the probability that a person will develop cancer during his or her lifetime.
However, it is important to understand that an individual’s cancer risk is affected by many
Over time, tritium released into the environment becomes distributed by the same process that
transports water (referred to as the hydrological cycle or water cycle). This process tends to
dilute tritium releases by spreading them out, largely preventing any accumulation in the
environment. However, the distribution and dilution of tritium is not immediate and, therefore,
individuals in close proximity to tritium releases are generally expected to be exposed to a
greater amount than others who are farther away. In practice, this means that organizations that
safely and legally release small amounts of tritium, such as nuclear power plants, are required to
ensure that their releases will not cause any member of the public an exposure above the public
dose limit. If severely damaged, some self-luminous consumer products–such as exit signs that
contain tritium–can release tritium to the environment as well. This means it is important to
dispose of these products in accordance with local and state regulations.

Tritium released into the environment can become incorporated into nutrients such as
carbohydrates, fats and proteins. This is called organically bound tritium (OBT). OBT can enter
the body directly by eating tritiated food. OBT poses a slightly greater health risk because as an
organic material, the body will retain it longer than tritiated water. This means that there is a
greater likelihood that the tritium atom will decay while in the body and possibly cause damage.
Generally speaking, OBT is at much smaller concentrations in the body than tritiated water.

Many radionuclides, including tritium, were released into the atmosphere during the atmospheric
testing of nuclear weapons, which mainly took place between 1945 and 1963.
In animals, tritium incorporation mainly results from ingestion or from absorbing water vapour
via inhalation or via the skin. Since it is an inert gas, tritiated hydrogen (HT) is not very soluble
in water nor in body fluids. Its rate of assimilation is around 10,000 times lower than tritiated
water. Tritium in the form of HTO is very easily absorbed by inhalation: 99% is retained by
animals in a few seconds. Inside an animal’s body, tritiated water diffuses quickly and freely and
equilibrates with body fluids within minutes and this is quite harmful.

Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen with three neutrons. The evaluation I made had proven
challenging, however, as tritium is difficult to get a grip on from both a radiological and human
health perspective. On the one hand, there is evidence that the risk from tritium is negligible and
current standards are more than precautionary. On the other, there is also some evidence that
tritium could be more harmful than originally thought.