Sciencemadness Discussion Board

Catalalytic effects of radioactive decay

Σldritch - 12-8-2020 at 08:34

I have become curious of the subject of the title due to a project in the design phase that could possibly benefit greatly from it.

How does radiation produced by radioactive decay affect reactions such as the radical halogenation of methane? Are there less obvious ways it can catalyse reactions? Does nucleogenic radiation differ significantly from photonic radiation chemistry wise? Does it produce more radicals or ions? How many secondary activated species can you expect from each event? How do you optimize for secondary events? Does it differ significantly between alpha, beta and gamma other than penetration and range?

Cezium - 17-8-2020 at 01:52

I wouldn't expect any secondary activation, it's not that easy -

phlogiston - 17-8-2020 at 17:24

I think Heptylene's logic in this thread makes a lot of sense:

Any source radioactive enough that it can break a significant number of bonds in a sample in a reasonable time can also do the same to your body.

In other words: it would require an extremely dangerous active source.

IMO, 'catalytic' is not the appropriate term. The (radioactive) agent that facilitates the reaction (i.e. overcomes the activation barrier) is not regenerated. There are some parallels with true catalysts (e.g. needed in only very small amounts), but the principle is fundamentally different.

Σldritch - 18-8-2020 at 03:33

Ah, i was unclear. I did not mean secondary nuclear activation, but chemical. If you get one activated molecule for every decay event you will need a lot of radioactive material, however, if every decay product can produce multiple activated molecules then it is starting to sound feasible. Even better, one can imagine each interaction of an energetic decay product producing an electron or high energy photon which can then go on to activate more molecules. Considering that radical reactions are already catalytic in nature i think it starts to look very much feasible as you could (and likely do in many cases) get exponentially more activated chemical specias than energetic particles you put in. This is probably why radiation is so dangerous too, which obviously needs to be taken into account. But using something like Thorium Dioxide in a sealed vial to replace an UV lamp could be very practical and cheap. I think it is fair to call it a (chemical) catalyst because many good isotopes are likely to outlast any chemical reaction you can conduct with them, your life and any civilization which is more than can be said for many things called catalysts.