Radioactive decay

The spontaneous transformation of one radionuclide into one or more decay products (also known as “daughters”). This transformation is commonly characterized by the emission of an alpha particle, a beta particle, or gamma ray photon(s) from the nucleus of the radionuclide. The rate at which these transformations take place, when a sufficient quantity of the same radionuclide is present, depends on the half-life of the radionuclide. Some radionuclides (e.g., hydrogen-3, also known as “tritium”) decay to stable daughters that are not radioactive. However, other radionuclides (e.g., uranium-238) decay to radioactive daughters (e.g., thorium-234) and may be part of a radioactive decay chain consisting of two or more radionuclides linked in a cascading series of radioactive decay.

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Wednesday, February 15, 2023