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Question Video: Recall That Some Sources of Radiation Are Artificial Science

Can nuclear radiation be produced by artificial processes?

01:42

Video Transcript

Can nuclear radiation be produced by artificial processes?

Let’s first remember that unstable atomic nuclei naturally occur. These nuclei emit nuclear radiation when they decay. It is important to remember that the decay of an atomic nucleus is a spontaneous process. It is not possible to make a chosen atomic nucleus decay at a chosen moment.

This makes it seem that nuclear radiation cannot be artificially produced. It is important to understand what is meant by producing nuclear radiation by an artificial process. This does not mean that nuclear radiation is produced by something other than a decaying nucleus. In fact, particles and waves, like those that nuclear radiation is made of, can be produced from sources other than decaying atomic nuclei. But that does not make the particles and waves produced by these other methods examples of nuclear radiation. Radiation must be emitted from decaying atomic nuclei to be considered nuclear radiation.

This does not explain how nuclear radiation could be artificially produced however. Rather it seems to show further that this is not possible. But while it is true that nuclear radiation must be emitted from decaying atomic nuclei and that this process is spontaneous, it is possible to artificially modify and combine different substances to make these substances change in ways that make it more likely for unstable atomic nuclei to decay in these substances. These modifications and combinations of substances are present in nuclear fuels, in nuclear power plants, and in nuclear weapons.

So the correct answer is yes; artificial processes can produce nuclear radiation.

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