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Tracers of Natural Processes (Coursework Sample)

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tracers of natural processes

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Tracers of Natural Processes
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Abstract
The Fukushima disaster occurred in March 2011 releasing several radioactive pollutants among them the Iodine- 129 which owing to its long life is bound to remain in the environment. After some time, the particles had found their way distance from the shores of Fukushima. The dominant species was iodide while Iodine - 127 was the stable iodate form. Iodine-129 is a tracer that occurs naturally and can be used in hydrologic and geologic studies on scales of 100My (Elsevier, 1985).
Isotopic tracers are radioactive atoms that can be detected in materials and used to study its distribution. The exhibited behaviour need be similar to that of the material but be of distinctive features. In the Fukushima disaster, iodide remained the dominating species of Iodine- 129. Estimates of the amount of this iodine that was discharged to the sea are at 1.09GBq. These are particularly important in the investigations of the possibility of this iodine finding its way to the Pacific Ocean in the future.
Introduction
Iodine is a solid that is non metallic that was discovered by Bernard Courtois in 1811. This was in water and was used to dissolve seaweed ash so that it could be used. Iodine- 129 which is more focussed on herein is a radioactive isotope. Radioactive iodine was discovered in the late 1930’s by John Livingood and Glenn T. Seaborg. The origin of iodine- 129 and iodine – 131 is as a result of fission occurring on uranium atoms when nuclear reactors and uranium are used as nuclear weapons. Therefore most of the iodine – 129 found in the environment is as a result of testing of the weapons. After its release, it is then disseminated around the world and forms small amounts in the environment.
Iodines are mostly used in the medical field but specifically iodine - 129 is less used. It has however been used in laboratories during diagnostic testing to check certain radioactivity. Organic fixation may occur when the released radioactive iodine finds its way to the soil through air and water (Robertson,et al. 1975). Since iodine -129 has a long life of around 15.7 million years, this translates that it remains in the environment for the longer part of time. Unlike iodine - 131, there is possibility of decay in any future that would clear it all. This translates to that isotopes that have along life span, for example as manifested by iodine – 129, usually produce radiations that are more intense than those with a short life span, say, iodine – 131 (Elsevier, 1985).
Background
Radioactive tracers are used with other tracers to conduct studies on global changes that occur on the environment, with air and water being more considered. These tracers offer time and space that can be used as boundary thus causing a mix up of matter in the environment. Thus, radiotracers are used to determine pollution that has occurred in the environment and the impact this has had on the ecology in terms of nuclear waste.
Environmental multi tracers may be either natural or artificial and are used to conduct research on the changes that are caused by both natural and manmade factors both on the surface and underground. Environmental isotopes are used to trace the effects on underground water as well as to correct the processes, both inland and under the surface. There is an aim at facilitating isotopic tracers to be used in water management, in both the arid and semi arid areas. When this is achieved, a specialist will not be necessary anymore as is the case now (G-Wadi, 2011). To achieve this, there is however need to acquire the materials and resources required.
Isotopes refer to forms of a certain chemical element with each form having its specified atomic mass. The numbers of protons, which is what gives the atomic number, are similar to all forms, thus, a chemical element will have a uniform atomic number for all its forms. However, there exist a different number of neutrons in every single form of a particular chemical element, reflecting in differing atomic mass. This simply means that all forms of a given chemical element have the same atomic number, owing to the proton number, but a differing atomic mass for each given form owing to the neutron that each form contains.
Discussion
Iodine - 129 usually has the possibility of being used as a tracer in chemical and biological radiations. Among its characteristics that make this possible is the low radiation energy it possesses meaning that the radiations it causes are usually mild and almost unnoticeable. The tracer can therefore be administered without causing hazards even when in large quantities. Iodine - 129 can also be used in combination with other isotopes simultaneously.
Isotope fractionation connotes the variance in nature of the ratios of stable isotopes caused by either chemical and, or biological processes (Chemical and Isotopic Tracers, 2011). An example is when the stable isotopes found in oxygen fractionate with rainfall, since rainfall mixes with oxygen. More of rainfall studies were conducted after the Chernobyl accident. On the other hand, the light isotopes which are found in the products we consume have a variance depending on where they originate.
With regard to Japan, the environment ministry already engaged in decontaminating the water affected by the disaster that struck Fukushima, but the cleanup is still complicated. The topsoil and vegetation is being removed by thousands of people yet the parts that are believed to be the most affected are yet to be worked on. This means the dealing with the effect of this disaster is more hectic than anticipated as even more people will be required, and thus the costs. The time that was believed to be enough is long due, currently around eight months late.
Reports have recently been released showing that it will take about four years from now for the exercise to be regarded complete and for the residents of the area to be resettled to there earlier homes before the disaster occurred. Those displaced are over ninety thousand people and most of them have lost hope and even decided to never return there, even after the clean up exercise is completed.
With regard to this disaster in Japan, the Pacific Ocean has increased levels of radioactive isotopes from what is actually expected. Reports have shown that these must have got their way from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant via air or water as a result of fish taking the caesium through water and thereafter discharging it into the ocean. The migratory animals such as the blue fin must have facilitated the discharge of the radioactive material after ingesting them near Fukushima. Since some of the radioactive isotopes are classified as long life, there is need for tracers to be put in place to deal with the matter early enough (Calif, 2004). It is clear that their eradication can really take long and thus requiring huge funds as revealed by Japan from what they are experiencing with the Fukushima.
The migratory animals have the ability to carry the radioactive content around and thus need be taken care of before the radioactive content is carried to the world in the long run. The tracers therefore may be of use in this case, as they can as well study the marines in the waters around Japan and come up with measures to prevent their migration, until the Fukushima disaster has been dealt with to the latter. There is a suggestion to have the blue fin caught in California tested so that it is found whether any radioactive content is present in them. This will determine the amount of radioactive the marines migrate around with and how far the same content may have been carried around to.
Next is a focus on the Canadian practices with regard to the tracers in natural processes. In Canada, the use of tracers that rely on the natural environmental isotopes has been embraced in several research programs. A greater focus has been on the Mackenzie River basin, where contributions have been made to several programme. Internationally, Canada has also offered support for instance to the International Atomic Energy Agency. There is a trend aimed at sustaining the precipitations and discharge into rivers (CNIP, 2006).
There is a committee that was formed in Canada known as the Canadian Network for Isotopes in Precipitation, (CNIP). Among its limitations was that in Canada there is no program aimed at collecting the isotopes required for precipitation purposes. Their aim is to use isotopic tracers in meeting the needs of scientific programs nationally and internationally by coming up with objectives and recommendations on the same (Chemical and Isotopic Tracers, 2011). Their agreed means need be documented and presented to the government so that they are considered and decided upon.
Summary and Conclusion
Isotopic tracers are therefore useful in determining the effect that contaminants have on the environment. The determination can be reached by conducting studies on the decomposition and degradation processes of the contaminants. Decomposing contaminants usually produce products of varying toxic levels. Such products need to be identified with their parent material and this is usually made possible by the isotopic labels. When it comes to getting rid of pesticide in the environment by use of isotopic tracers, much can be derived (Calif, 2004). Through the isotopes, the actions that were conducted on a product are revealed, making it possible for the environmental hazards caused to be corrected.
Radioactivity was first discovered in the year 1895 by Becquerel, while radioactive tracers were first used in 1923 by Hevesy. This acted as a background for developments done to improve public health and matters of food production. Experiments have been conducted using radiotracers and from these the safer pesticides hav...
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