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Old 2019-12-07, 22:20   #1
jasong
 
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Default What could we do with radioactive materials if they weren't radioactive?

I heard of a woman dying because of radioactive jewelry, so they obviously have visual appeal. But would we really care about radioactive materials in a world where they weren't radioactive?

Would things like plutonium be worthwhile if they didn't emit all that energy?
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Old 2019-12-07, 22:46   #2
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With aesthetics out the only possible answer is "yes if they have other useful properties, otherwise no". Have you solved the world's energy crisis and want to know what to do with all the superfluous rods in the shed?
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Old 2019-12-07, 23:16   #3
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I could use Francium in my bathtub removal business.
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Old 2019-12-08, 01:38   #4
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Originally Posted by lavalamp View Post
I could use Francium in my bathtub removal business.
It would give a whole new meaning to "business is booming."
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Old 2019-12-08, 01:48   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasong View Post
I heard of a woman dying because of radioactive jewelry, so they obviously have visual appeal. But would we really care about radioactive materials in a world where they weren't radioactive?

Would things like plutonium be worthwhile if they didn't emit all that energy?
Thorium dioxide was used in "gas mantles" before the word "radioactive" was even coined. Later, it came to be used in the mantles for camping lanterns.

Uranium has been used as an additive to glass since at least as far back as when Pompeii and Herculaneum ceased to exist. Uranium glass has a greenish-yellow color and is sometimes called "vaseline glass."

Although both thorium and uranium are radioactive, the most common isotopes have very long half lives. U-238 has a half life of about 4.5 billion years. Th-232 has a half-life of over 14 billion years.

It was relatively recently announced that bismuth-209 is radioactive, with a half life of 1.9 x 1019 years. It has a number of uses, which will no doubt continue.
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Old 2019-12-08, 08:11   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasong View Post
I heard of a woman dying because of radioactive jewelry, so they obviously have visual appeal. But would we really care about radioactive materials in a world where they weren't radioactive?

Would things like plutonium be worthwhile if they didn't emit all that energy?
Plutonium has remarkable mechanical properties as it changes temperature. I'm sure that could be put to use in high-reliability thermal protection devices.

Look it at the other way. If things were not radioactive we would lose a lot. Just one example: SWMBO was given a dose of Tc-99m specifically because it is radioactive and its emitted gamma rays can easily penetrate flesh to be recorded on a camera. It also accumulates in the places suspected of harbouring a bone infection.
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Old 2019-12-23, 22:23   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasong View Post
I heard of a woman dying because of radioactive jewelry, so they obviously have visual appeal. But would we really care about radioactive materials in a world where they weren't radioactive?

Would things like plutonium be worthwhile if they didn't emit all that energy?
Depleted uranium is used for many things due to its very high density. Ammunition made from depleted uranium can penetrate armor plating that most other ammunition can't. Ironically, depleted uranium has been used for shielding in radioactive medical equipment.

Norm
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Old 2019-12-24, 00:04   #8
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Depleted uranium is used for many things due to its very high density. Ammunition made from depleted uranium can penetrate armor plating that most other ammunition can't. Ironically, depleted uranium has been used for shielding in radioactive medical equipment.

Norm
Depleted uranium's price benefits from the value of U235 extraction for warheads or nuclear plant fuel, similarly to how liquid nitrogen is very cheap because of production of liquid oxygen for steelmaking and other purposes. A project I worked on decades ago used a moderate quantity of DU for adjustable xray pinhole jaws. The quantity was small enough an NRC license was not required. Because of uranium's toxicity and ease of oxidation, the pinhole jaws were lightly nickel plated.
Going further up the atomic number scale, if the transuranic elements were stable, they might have some very useful engineering properties. Elements 106 and 107, the big brothers of tungsten and rhenium, would be of considerable interest for both density and melting point. 106 or 107 would probably make both an excellent incandescent filament and a very good xray generation target, as well as strong metal parts for hypervelocity flight. Densities of 34 to 41 or more g/cc would be useful in compact counterweights for many applications.

If radon was not radioactive, it would not be necessary to test for radon seepage into basements and install ventilation systems to reduce cancer probability for the occupants. The heavier noble gases are used for scientific experiments, and as fill gas for sealed multipane window assemblies; higher atomic number is denser and lower conductivity so would provide better insulating properties. The heavier analog to the "rare earth elements" would probably also be of commercial interest in batteries and magnets. (hybrids or more likely stationary storage anyone?)
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Old 2019-12-26, 21:44   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kriesel View Post
The heavier noble gases are used for scientific experiments, and as fill gas for sealed multipane window assemblies; higher atomic number is denser and lower conductivity so would provide better insulating properties.
Here to put some numbers on your note - by way of comparison, air at STP has a density of 1.217 g/L and a Thermal conductivity of ~9 mW/(m·K):
Code:
			Atomic	Density	Thermal
			Number	at STP	conductivity
				g/L	mW/(m·K)
Helium			2	0.1786	151.3
Neon			10	0.9002 	49.1
Argon			18	1.784	17.72
Krypton			36	3.749	9.43
Xenon			54	5.894	5.65
Radon			86	9.73	3.61
I find Xenon to be especially interesting because it is a highly effective (and relatively safe) anesthetic, a neuroprotectant and can be used as doping compound in sports since inhalation has similar RBC-production-stimulating effects as EPO. Wikipedia: "On August 31, 2014, the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) added xenon (and argon) to the list of prohibited substances and methods, although no reliable doping tests for these gases have yet been developed."
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Old 2019-12-27, 09:27   #10
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Pertechnetate produces a technetium-dioxide layer on iron, which would be a very useful corrosion-inhibition mechanism rather than an irritating way of moving radioactivity around if it weren't radioactive.

(to the surprise of researchers, perrhenate doesn't have a similar effect on iron; permanganate does on aluminium but not on iron)

Looking at the nucleosynthesis charts, technetium would be no more abundant than silver even were it stable - nature disapproves of odd numbers of protons; it would probably be refined from copper-production electrode sludge and as an impurity in manganese ores.
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Old 2019-12-27, 14:03   #11
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<snip>
Elements 106 and 107, the big brothers of tungsten and rhenium, would be of considerable interest for both density and melting point. 106 or 107 would probably make both an excellent incandescent filament and a very good xray generation target, as well as strong metal parts for hypervelocity flight.
<snip>
As it is, elements 106 and 107 are so radioactive (half lives of minutes not hours) that filaments made from them would likely be incandescent without having to run electricity through them -- at least until they vaporized.

Like the sales pitch for "Three Mile Island milk" -- "You won't need a light for your refrigerator!"

Lord Kelvin's famously wrong determination of the age of the earth was based on the assumptions that the earth had started out in a molten state, had no internal sources of heat, and was slowly cooling off by thermal conduction through solid rock. His estimates of around 100 million years held sway from the early 1860's until the 1900's when he formally withdrew his overall theory.

All his assumptions are now considered to be incorrect. The earth's mantle is far from solid, and a great deal of heat is moved by convection. But it was the fact that radioactivity provides a significant source of internal heat that most plainly invalidated his theory.

Of course, none of this stops "young-earth creationists" from citing Kelvin and lying about how old he thought the earth was, to claim scientific support for Archbishop James Ussher's determination that the earth was created about 6000 years ago.

In any case, the answer to the question of what we would do with radioactive materials if they weren't radioactive is, "Nothing." Without radioactivity, the earth would have become geologically dead long since, and none of us would be here.
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