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Nuclear chemistry is the study of the changes in the nucleus of elements, radio activity such as nuclear transmutation and nuclear properties. Radioactive elements include actinides, radium and radon. Study of nuclear chemistry also includes corrosion of surfaces and the behaviour under normal and abnormal conditions. Another important area is the behaviour of objects and material after being placed into nuclear waste storage and disposal sites. Modern nuclear chemistry is also called radiochemistry. There are many uses of nuclear chemistry including the study of formation of elements in the universe and design of radioactive drugs for medical purposes.

Introduction to nuclear chemistry

Introduction to Nuclear Chemistry | Image source:

Nuclear chemistry is the study of chemical effects resulting from the absorption of radiation with living animals, plants and other materials. It includes study of production and use of radioactive materials for various processes. The nuclear fusion and fission reactions are used in development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Radioactivity has effects on living things at the molecular scale and changes the biochemicals within the organism. Radioactive decay makes it possible to monitor the activities going on in the human body. Thus there are many benefits of studying this highly specialized field of science.

There are three sources of radioactive elements. Primordial nuclei are naturally occurring radioactivity. Cosmogenic nuclides atoms are also natural occurring. The third source of radioactivity comes from results of human activity in the production of nuclear power and nuclear weapons and is called anthropogenic.

Radioactive elements can be found easily from the bottom side of the periodic table. Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope of a normal carbon (with two extra neutrons), with a half life of approximately 5000 years.

History of Nuclear Chemistry
Radioactivity was discovered by Henri Becquerel in 1896 and the field of chemistry was expanded to include nuclear chemistry when he discovered that uranium emitted radiation. Soon after Marie Curie began studying radioactivity and proceed to work on nuclear changes.

The main areas of Nuclear Chemistry are radiation chemistry, chemistry for nuclear power, study of nuclear reactions and nuclear fuel cycles.

Radiation chemistry is the study of chemical effects of radiation on matter. Radioactivity needs to be present in the material which is being chemically changed by radiation.

Radiation chemistry, radiochemistry and nuclear chemistry engineering are very important for uranium and thorium fuel precursors synthesis. It includes fuel fabrication, coolant chemistry, fuel processing, radioactive waste treatment and storage, monitoring of radioactive elements in radioactive operations and storage.

Types of Nuclear reactions
Fusion and fission are the two types of nuclear reactions. Radiochemistry and radiation chemistry is used to study these reactions.

Did you know: Nuclear fission was first discovered during the formation of the short lived radioisotope of barium while isolating it from neutron irradiated uranium.

A nuclear fuel cycle involves all the operations in producing nuclear fuel that is from mining to ore processing to fuel production. It also includes management of used nuclear fuel in spent fuel pool and dry storage. The study is divided in two main areas. One covers operations under the intended conditions and the second covers mal operation conditions.

Nuclear medicine
Nuclear medicine is a rapidly expanding branch of healthcare. It is uses radioactive isotopes to diagnose illness and treat specific diseases. It synthesises drugs form radionuclides produced in nuclear reactors. These drugs are injected into patients to seek out cancerous tumours.


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