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2.2.4: Radioactive Minerals

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    Most common isotopes are stable isotopes. In 1896 Henri Becquerel discovered unstable isotopes and radioactivity when he unintentionally conducted an experiment. He put some radioactive samples in a drawer, along with a photographic plate, and subsequently found that the plate had recorded the image of a key that had been sitting on top of it. Although Becquerel didn’t know it, X-rays given off by uranium-rich minerals had caused the image. During the following decade, researchers including Marie and Pierre Curie and Ernest Rutherford determined that some elements, termed radioisotopes, emit alpha \((\alpha)\) and beta \((\beta)\) particles, and gamma \((\gamma)\) radiation as they decay to form daughter isotopes. So, minerals are radioactive if they contain radioisotopes, and the amount of radioactivity depends on isotope concentration. Most minerals that contain potassium, uranium, and thorium are radioactive, but many other elements besides these three can also contribute to radioactivity.

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    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): (left) Tobernite (middle) Autenite, (right) 2.8 Uraninite on calcite

    Radioactive minerals are quite rare but many of them, like those seen in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\), make spectacular mineral specimens. Torbernite (copper-uranium phosphate), autunite (calcium-uranium phosphate), and uraninite (uranium oxide) are three of the most common examples. Uraninite is the main ore for uranium; the specimen seen here comes from a mine in Topsham, Maine.


    This page titled 2.2.4: Radioactive Minerals is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dexter Perkins via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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