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What is the process of nuclear decay?

Nuclear decay is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus emits radiation to become more stable.

During nuclear decay, an unstable atomic nucleus undergoes a transformation to become more stable. This transformation can occur through three types of decay: alpha decay, beta decay, and gamma decay. In alpha decay, the nucleus emits an alpha particle, which consists of two protons and two neutrons. This reduces the atomic number by two and the mass number by four. In beta decay, the nucleus emits a beta particle, which is either an electron or a positron. This changes the atomic number by one but does not affect the mass number. In gamma decay, the nucleus emits a gamma ray, which is a high-energy photon. This does not change the atomic number or mass number.

The rate of nuclear decay is measured by the half-life, which is the amount of time it takes for half of the radioactive material to decay. The half-life is a characteristic property of each radioactive isotope and can range from fractions of a second to billions of years.

Nuclear decay plays an important role in nuclear physics, medicine, and energy production. It is used in medical imaging and cancer treatment, as well as in nuclear power plants to generate electricity. However, it also poses a risk to human health and the environment if not handled properly. Therefore, it is important to understand the process of nuclear decay and its implications.

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