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The Interpretation of Radium Essay

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Updated: May 9th, 2022

Discovered in the year 1898 by a Nobel laureate, Marie Sklodowska Curie, and her husband, Pierre Curie, radium is among the heavy metals falling under alkaline earth metals. Prior to its discovery, Marie had noticed that unrefined pitchblende (material composed of uranium) had enhanced radioactivity vis-à-vis pure radium extracted from the same. Consequently, her quest to establish the anomaly led to the discovery of both radium and polonium. However, in pitchblende the quantity extracted is usually negligible- approximately 0.14gms in 1 ton. Commercially, radium is sold as a compound (i.e. RaCl2 or RaBr2) rather than a pure element partly because of its radioactive nature.

Chemically, radium as an element has an atomic number of 88, and while its entire isotopes are highly radioactive the most stable of them all is radium-226. This one has a half-life of approximately 1600 years. Radium is a million fold more reactive than uranium (Wells 34).

The discovery and subsequent isolation of radium by Marie Curie were received with absolute joy owing to the envisioned benefits anticipated. To this end, there was a need to explore large uranium ore deposits present then. As such, Joachimsthal in Australia received the first nod. However, with Australia exploiting the monopoly, and with the growing demand for the same, to date, there exist several deposits littered around the world including Congo, the US, Canada, and Russia. To this effect, the total worldwide production as of the year 1954, reached a new height of 2.5Kgs per year.

Essentially, the discovery of radium was initially received thanks to its unique physical and chemical properties. As such, radium found application in diverse sectors of the economy. In particular, as regards artistic works, radium bromide was used in the illumination of paints. Moreover, in the medical field its radioactive product, radon gas, has been used in the treatment of cancer courtesy of its ability to decay fast. In the food and cosmetic industry, radium served as additives. Vitally, in the aesthetic as well as ornamental fields a mixture of radium and phosphor play a big part: this mixture is sparkling and attractive to the eye hence responsible for the glittering nature of watches and other ornaments made from the same (Curie and Bémont 1215).

However, its applications in several fields have now raised eyebrows owing to the health and safety concerns fronted by both environmentalists and biologists. To this effect, these concerns have halted its continued use in various fields. Nevertheless, its application in paint products is still going strong hitherto. The health risks associated with radium are due to its highly spontaneous nature concerning the emission of radiations including alpha and gamma rays. To this end, long-term exposure to these radiations may result in the development of diseases associated with the blood e.g. aplastic anemia and leukemia.

To avert the health hazards, especially in nations that produce this mineral several policies have been put in place by the respective governments. For instance, the US federal government through Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has formulated regulations vital in limiting the release of radium into the environment.

Commercially, since its discovery, radium has relegated uranium with respect to industrial use. Radium is a scarce element hence its price is projected to be high. Comparably, its production cost is expected to be high too due to its negligible concentration in uranium ore. Essentially, because it is a trace element in uranium ore, very few nations can produce this. As such, these nations enjoy a monopoly responsible for high prices. As such, a gram of radium can cost a fortune.

Radium is a naturally occurring element in our environment. Principally, radium is a product of radioactive decay from both thorium and uranium. As such, it is present in virtually all soil, rock, and even water (Soddy). However, their concentrations are normally negligible. Nevertheless, these concentrations can be amplified by geological processes. While in the environment, radium undergoes spontaneous decay releasing other isotopes as well as radon, and radiations until it stabilizes. These radiations represent health hazards. As regards its compound, the salts of this radium are highly soluble in water hence; when a well is sunk in an area with high radium concentrations then the water will have a relatively high concentration in radium. To this end, man is always at risk of getting radium-related diseases. Of note, once ingested radium which is an alkaline earth metal and believed to share chemical properties with calcium has the potential of damaging the bone. Typically, it replaces calcium in the bone hence weakening it. Vitally, radium has abilities to mutate as well as killer cells. Thus, as noted by (Soddy 4), the risks of radium were apparent at the time it was discovered.

In a conclusion, this paper has brought into perspective the elemental radium as well as some of its important characteristics essential for one to be safe. In a nutshell, radium is a highly radioactive element with the potential of causing mutations thus; there is a need to limit exposure time to be safe.

References

Curie, Marie and Bémont Gustave. “Sur une nouvelle substance fortement radio- active, contenue dans la pechblende: On a new, strongly radioactive” Comptes Rendus 127.1 (1989): 1215–1217. Print.

Soddy, Frederick. The Interpretation of Radium. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.

Wells, George. The World Set Free. Glasgow: Collins Publishers, 1914. Print.

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