How Is Radon Gas Produced?

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What Is Radon?

  • Radon is an element, meaning it is a substance that exists at the independent and atomic level, rather than being a compound made up of individual elements. Beneath elements are the building blocks of atoms: electrons, neutrons and protons. Radon is one of the six noble gases, noted for their odorless and colorless state, as well as their low degree of chemical reactivity. The latter means that noble gases like radon are often found as monoatomic substances, rather than bound up in a compound. Of the noble gases, radon is the only one that is radioactive.

Radioactive Decay

  • Radon is a product of a radioactive decay chain. Radioactive elements are heavy and unstable, prone to falling apart and converting into a smaller atom and shedding the difference in mass as charged particles made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The latter comprise the dangerous radioactivity. Radon is part of both the uranium-radium and the thorium decay chains. So when uranium-238 decays into an isotope of radium, it emits radiation along the way. Then the radium later decays into radon, emitting more radiation and converting from a solid into a gas.

Radon in Nature

  • Elements like uranium, radium and thorium are all common in the Earth's crust, albeit in minute amounts. For example, there is an average of 1 gram of radium present in every section of the Earth's surface that is 6 inches deep by 1 mile long by 1 mile long. When these minute, dispersed radioactive elements emit radon gas as a decay product, it literally seeps out of the dirt and rocks. This is taking place around us constantly, albeit in very small amounts.

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