Decay product

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In nuclear physics, a decay product, also known as a daughter product, daughter isotope or daughter nuclide, is a nuclide resulting from the radioactive decay of a parent isotope or precursor nuclide. The daughter product may be stable or it may decay to form a daughter product of its own. The daughter of a daughter product is sometimes called a granddaughter product.

Decay products are extremely important in understanding radioactive decay and the management of radioactive waste.

In practice nearly all decay products are themselves radioactive. The result of this is that most radionuclides do not have simply a decay product, but rather a decay chain, leading eventually to a stable nuclide. For elements above lead in atomic number, this is nearly always an isotope of lead. Lead is generally the stable point at which decay chains stop.

In many cases members of the decay chain are far more radioactive than the original nuclide. Thus, although uranium is not dangerously radioactive when pure, some pieces of naturally-occurring pitchblende are quite dangerous owing to their radium content. Similarly, thorium gas mantles are very slightly radioactive when new, but become far more radioactive after only a few months of storage.

Although it cannot be predicted whether any given atom of a radioactive substance will decay at any given time, the decay products of a radioactive substance are extremely predictable. Because of this, decay products are important to scientists in many fields who need to know the quantity or type of the parent product. Such studies are done to measure pollution levels (in and around nuclear facilities) and for other matters.

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