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> I’m curious what you think the irradiation will have done to the vehicles?
No no no it’s not physical corrosion that an issue at hand, it’s the contaminants on the vehicles passively irradiating the materials (iron less so as it’s generally pretty stable, but heavier elements in the steel alloy and circuitry). I imagine beta emission may cause some reduction, but it would be pretty negligible – I repeat, I am NOT talking about physical damage in terms of redox reactions.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
To my understanding, irradiation via a neutron emitter have the chance to irradiate a recipient atom and cause an n:p imbalance – making the recipient a subsequently unstable radioisotope with it’s own inherent half life and properties etc. What the recipient atom is plays a role too, as heavier atoms are more likely to become alpha emitters if their atomic no’ is simply too great; or beta emitters if they’re suffering an n:p imbalance. If exposed for a long amount of time, more decay events of the contaminant occur in close proximity to the potential receiver atoms, meaning a greater chance of activation. It’s really just a weaker form of neutron bombardment.
> if anything it will have got better not worse at many of the short lived isotopes will have decayed.
Absolutely not true. The problem is that most primary radionuclides used have half lives of millions of years, meaning that they *won’t* fully decay into another form any time soon – and when they do, it will most likely be another radionuclide that in turn has it’s own half life. Uranium-235 (the nuclear fuel) has a half life of 703.8 million years and is a relatively powerful alpha emitter. It will gradually form it’s daughter isotope, Thorium-231 which is a very powerful beta emitter, and has a half life of only a few hours (yay!). It then forms Protactinium-231, which has a half life of 30,000 something years and is a relatively strong alpha emitter (less yay). This chain of decay products goes on until finally, a stable lead isotope is formed. In the time it has taken a sample of U-235 unspent fuel to fully decay into a stable product, humanity has most likely become extinct simply because of how much time has progressed.
I think what you’re thinking about is dispersion of radionuclides – which is why it’s safe to enter Pripyat now as opposed to 25 years ago. Plants will take up the radioactive fallout from the soil and concentrate it in the biosphere (which is why it’s incredibly ill advised to eat local produce); storms will carry dust and deposit it elsewhere; flowing water will displace debris and move it elsewhere etc… The radionuclides are still around, albeit it over a greater area or concentrated in particular areas.