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What is a Radioactive Tracer?

A tracer is a radioactive material which is put into a liquid (or gas).
tracers can be used in both medicine and industry.

How are Radioactive Tracers used in Industry?

A leak in an underground industrial pipe can be found
by adding a radioactive tracer to the liquid in the pipe.
A detector is moved along the ground above where the pipe
is buried. The count rate will be found to increase where
the pipe is leaking as a larger amount of liquid containing the
radioactive tracer will collect there. In the picture below,
the red arrows represent radioactivity emitted from the pipe.

Radioactive Tracer in a Pipe

What type of Radioactive Tracer is used to Detect Leaks?

The radioactive tracer would need to be a gamma emitter.
Gamma rays can penetrate through the ground (and metal pipe)
and be detected at the surface. Alpha and beta radiation would
not penetrate through to the surface and could not be detected.

The gamma emitter tracer would have a short half-life
to minimize the danger to living organisms near to the pipe.
A short half-life means that the amount of radioactivity
being emitted from the tracer in the pipe would decrease quickly.

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