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Bismuth is NOT a stable element; it is, in fact, radioactive. [View All]

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NNadir Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-05-05 05:02 PM
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Bismuth is NOT a stable element; it is, in fact, radioactive.
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Edited on Mon Sep-05-05 05:11 PM by NNadir
Many people who are familiar with science have been taught that bismuth is the heaviest stable element in the periodic table. I know I have always believed this, even if it seemed odd that a element with an odd atomic number should enjoy this distinction.

Unlike the heavy elements in the periodic table near it which are all highly toxic, lead, thallium and mercury, bismuth is a relatively non-toxic element, at least to eucaryotic cells. (Procaryotes don't fare as well.) In fact, the largest single use of bismuth is as a medication; it is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, a well known over the counter medication that generates few, if any, concerns.

Today I was contemplating lead cooled fast nuclear reactors, a type of reactor that has not been built but is being contemplated for the Gen IV nuclear reactor program. Naturally I was perusing the Table of Nuclides and, because bismuth is a product of neutron capture followed by beta-decay in lead-208, (i.e. such a reactor transmutes lead into bismuth) I was inspired to look at the nuclear properties of bismuth.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this note:

"Bi-209 has been known as stable nuclide. But, alpha decay of Bi-209 with a half time of 2*10^19 years was found, recently.
Reference : PIERRE DE MARCILLAC, NOEL CORON, GERARD DAMBIER, JACQUES LEBLANC & JEAN-PIERRE MOALIC, " Experimental detection of a-particles from the radioactive decay of natural bismuth," Nature 422, 876-878 (2003); doi:10.1038/nature01541."

People often act irrationally when they hear the word "radioactive." For this reason let me state that it's not time to take your pepto-bismol to a radioactive waste dump . This is an extremely slow radioactive decay. If">the age of the universe is taken to 13.7 billion years, only about 50 billionths of the bismuth formed near that time would have experienced nuclear decay. If one were to eat a kilo of bismuth, one would experience about 250 nuclear decays in a day. For comparison purposes, a typical 70 kg human being experiences about 4200 nuclear decays per second from the 140 grams of potassium such a person contains.

I have no idea whether anyone else will find this interesting, but I thought it was neat.
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