Cobalt-60 (60Co) is a synthetic radioactive isotope of cobalt with a half-life of 5.2713 years.[3]: 39  It is produced artificially in nuclear reactors. Deliberate industrial production depends on neutron activation of bulk samples of the monoisotopic and mononuclidic cobalt isotope 59
Co
.[4] Measurable quantities are also produced as a by-product of typical nuclear power plant operation and may be detected externally when leaks occur. In the latter case (in the absence of added cobalt) the incidentally produced 60
Co
is largely the result of multiple stages of neutron activation of iron isotopes in the reactor's steel structures[5] via the creation of its 59
Co
precursor. The simplest case of the latter would result from the activation of 58
Fe
. 60
Co
undergoes beta decay to the stable isotope nickel-60 (60
Ni
). The activated nickel nucleus emits two gamma rays with energies of 1.17 and 1.33 MeV, hence the overall equation of the nuclear reaction (activation and decay) is:

Cobalt-60, 60Co
Radioactive source Co-60, activity 370 kBq.jpg
General
Symbol60Co
Namescobalt-60, Co-60
Protons (Z)27
Neutrons (N)33
Nuclide data
Natural abundancetrace
Half-life (t1/2)5.27 years[1]
Isotope mass59.9338222 Da
Spin5+
Decay modes
Decay modeDecay energy (MeV)
β (beta decay)0.317[2]
γ (gamma-rays)1.1732,1.3325
Isotopes of cobalt
Complete table of nuclides
γ-ray spectrum of cobalt-60

59
27
Co
+ n → 60
27
Co
60
28
Ni
+ e +
ν
e
+ gamma rays.

ActivityEdit

Corresponding to its half-life, the radioactive activity of one gram of 60
Co
is 44 TBq (1,200 Ci). The absorbed dose constant is related to the decay energy and time. For 60
Co
it is equal to 0.35 mSv/(GBq h) at one meter from the source. This allows calculation of the equivalent dose, which depends on distance and activity.

For example, a 60
Co
source with an activity of 2.8 GBq, which is equivalent to 60 μg of pure 60
Co
, generates a dose of 1 mSv at one meter distance within one hour. The swallowing of 60
Co
reduces the distance to a few millimeters, and the same dose is achieved within seconds.

Test sources, such as those used for school experiments, have an activity of <100 kBq. Devices for nondestructive material testing use sources with activities of 1 TBq and more.

The high γ-energies result in a significant mass difference between 60
Ni
and 60
Co
of 0.003 u. This amounts to nearly 20 watts per gram, nearly 30 times larger than that of 238
Pu
.

DecayEdit

 
The decay scheme of 60
Co
and 60m
Co
.

The diagram shows a (simplified) decay scheme of 60
Co
and 60m
Co
. The main β-decay transitions are shown. The probability for population of the middle energy level of 2.1 MeV by β-decay is 0.0022%, with a maximum energy of 665.26 keV. Energy transfers between the three levels generate six different gamma-ray frequencies.[6] In the diagram the two important ones are marked. Internal conversion energies are well below the main energy levels.

60m
Co
is a nuclear isomer of 60
Co
with a half-life of 10.467 minutes.[3] It decays by internal transition to 60
Co
, emitting 58.6 keV gamma rays, or with a low probability (0.22%) by β-decay into 60
Ni
.[6]

ApplicationsEdit

Security screening of cars at Super Bowl XLI using 60
Co
gamma-ray scanner (2007)
Prototype irradiator for food irradiation to prevent spoilage, 1984. The 60
Co
is in the central pipes

The main advantage of 60
Co
is that it is a high-intensity gamma-ray emitter with a relatively long half-life, 5.27 years, compared to other gamma ray sources of similar intensity. The β-decay energy is low and easily shielded; however, the gamma-ray emission lines have energies around 1.3 MeV, and are highly penetrating. The physical properties of cobalt such as resistance to bulk oxidation and low solubility in water give some advantages in safety in the case of a containment breach over some other gamma sources such as caesium-137. The main uses for 60
Co
are:

Cobalt has been discussed as a "salting" element to add to nuclear weapons, to produce a cobalt bomb, an extremely "dirty" weapon which would contaminate large areas with 60
Co
nuclear fallout, rendering them uninhabitable. In one hypothetical design, the tamper of the weapon would be made of 59
Co
. When the bomb exploded, the excess neutrons from the nuclear fission would irradiate the cobalt and transmute it into 60
Co
. No country is known to have done any serious development of this type of weapon.

60
Co
needle implanted in tumors for radiotherapy, around 1955.
60
Co
teletherapy machine for cancer radiotherapy, early 1950s.
Brookhaven plant mutation experiment using 60
Co
source in the pipe, center.
60
Co
source for sterilizing screwflies in the 1959 Screwworm Eradication Program.

ProductionEdit

There is no natural 60
Co
in existence on earth; thus, synthetic 60
Co
is created by bombarding a 59
Co
target with a slow neutron source. Californium-252,[citation needed] moderated through water, can be used for this purpose, as can the neutron flux in a nuclear reactor. The CANDU reactors can be used to activate 59
Co
, by substituting the control rods with cobalt rods.[10] In the United States, it is now being produced in a BWR at Hope Creek Nuclear Generating Station. The cobalt targets are substituted here for a small number of fuel assemblies.[11] Still, over 40% of all single-use medical devices are sterilized using 60
Co
from Bruce nuclear generating station.[12]

59
Co
+ n → 60
Co

SafetyEdit

After entering a living mammal (such as a human being), some of the 60
Co
is excreted in feces. The remainder is taken up by tissues, mainly the liver, kidneys, and bones, where the prolonged exposure to gamma radiation can cause cancer. Over time, the absorbed cobalt is eliminated in urine.[8]

Steel contaminationEdit

Cobalt is an element used to make steel. Uncontrolled disposal of 60
Co
in scrap metal is responsible for the radioactivity found in several iron-based products.[13][14]

Circa 1983, construction was finished of 1700 apartments in Taiwan which were built with steel contaminated with cobalt-60. Approximately 10,000 people occupied these buildings during a 9–20 year period. On average, these people unknowingly received a radiation dose of 0.4 Sv. This large group did not suffer a higher incidence of cancer mortality, as the linear no-threshold model would predict, but suffered a lower cancer mortality than the general Taiwan public. These observations appear to be compatible with the radiation hormesis model.[15]

In August 2012, Petco recalled several models of steel pet food bowls after US Customs and Border Protection determined that they were emitting low levels of radiation. The source of the radiation was determined to be 60
Co
that had contaminated the steel.[16]

In May 2013 a batch of metal-studded belts sold by online retailer ASOS were confiscated and held in a US radioactive storage facility after testing positive for 60
Co
.[17]

Incidents involving medical radiation sourcesEdit

In the Samut Prakan radiation accident in 2000, a disused radiotherapy head containing a 60
Co
source was stored at an unsecured location in Bangkok, Thailand and then accidentally sold to scrap collectors. Unaware of the dangers, a junkyard employee dismantled the head and extracted the source, which remained unprotected for a period of days at the junkyard. Ten people, including the scrap collectors and workers at the junkyard, were exposed to high levels of radiation and became ill. Three of the junkyard workers subsequently died as a result of their exposure, which was estimated to be over 6 Gy. Afterward, the source was safely recovered by Thai authorities.[18]

In December 2013, a truck carrying a disused 111 TBq 60Co teletherapy source from a hospital in Tijuana to a radioactive waste storage center was hijacked at a gas station near Mexico City.[19][20] The truck was soon recovered, but the thieves had removed the source from its shielding. It was found intact in a nearby field.[20][21] Despite early reports with lurid headlines asserting that the thieves were "likely doomed",[22] the radiation sickness was mild enough that the suspects were quickly released to police custody,[23] and no one is known to have died from the incident.[24]

ParityEdit

In 1957, Chien-Shiung Wu et al. discovered the β-decay process violated parity, implying nature has a handedness.[25]

In the Wu experiment her group aligned radioactive 60
Co
nuclei by cooling the source to low temperatures in a magnetic field. Wu's observation was that more β-rays were emitted in the opposite direction to the nuclear spin. This asymmetry violates parity conservation.

SuppliersEdit

Argentina, Canada and Russia are the largest suppliers of 60
Co
in the world.[26] Both Argentina and Canada have (as of 2022) an all heavy water reactor fleet for power generation. Canada has the CANDU in numerous locations throughout Ontario as well as Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station in New Brunswick, while Argentina has two German supplied heavy water reactors at Atucha nuclear power plant and a Canadian-built CANDU at Embalse Nuclear Power Station. Heavy water reactors are particularly well suited for the production of cobalt-60 because of their excellent neutron economy and because their capacity for online refueling allows targets to be inserted into the reactor core and removed after a predetermined time without the need for cold shutdown. Furthermore the heavy water used as a moderator is commonly held at lower temperatures than the coolant in light water reactors, allowing for a lower speed of neutrons, which increases the neutron cross section and decreases unwanted (n,2n) "knockout" reactions.

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Radionuclide Half-Life Measurements". National Institute of Standards and Technology. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  2. ^ "Chart of Nucleids". National Nuclear Data Center. Brookhaven National Laboratory. Archived from the original on 22 May 2008. Retrieved 25 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b Eckerman, K.; Endo, A. (2008). "Annex A. Radionuclides of the ICRP-07 collection". Annals of the ICRP | Nuclear Decay Data for Dosimetric Calculations. ICRP Publication 107. Vol. 38. International Commission on Radiological Protection. pp. 35–96. doi:10.1016/j.icrp.2008.10.002. ISBN 978-0-7020-3475-6. ISSN 0146-6453. LCCN 78647961. PMID 19285593.
  4. ^ Malkoske, G. R.; Slack, J.; Norton, J. L. (2–5 June 2002). Cobalt-60 production in CANDU power reactors. 40 years of nuclear energy in Canada = 40 anne´es d'e´nergie nucle´aire au Canada (Conference). Vol. 34. Canadian Nuclear Society. ISBN 978-0919784697. OCLC 59260021 – via International Atomic Energy Agency. (PDF also located at Canadian Nuclear FAQ)
  5. ^ US EPA Radiation Protection: Cobalt
  6. ^ a b "Table of Isotopes decay data". Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Gamma Irradiators For Radiation Processing (PDF). IAEA. 2005.
  8. ^ a b c d "Cobalt | Radiation Protection | US EPA". EPA. Retrieved April 16, 2012.
  9. ^ "Nuclear "birth control" helps Croatia fruit farmers fight flies". October 2, 2012 – via www.reuters.com.
  10. ^ "Isotope Production: Dual Use Power Plants - Atomic Insights". atomicinsights.com. June 1, 1996.
  11. ^ NJ.com, Bill Gallo Jr | For (November 12, 2010). "PSEG Nuclear's Hope Creek reactor back on line, begins production of Cobalt-60". nj.
  12. ^ "A Nuclear Power Side Venture: Medical Isotope Production". May 2020.
  13. ^ "Information Notice No. 83-16: Contamination of the Auburn Steel Company Property with Cobalt-60". NRC Web.
  14. ^ "Lessons Learned The Hard Way". IAEA Bulletin 47-2. International Atomic Energy Agency. Archived from the original on 18 July 2010. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  15. ^ Chen, W.L.; Luan, Y.C.; Shieh, M.C.; Chen, S.T.; Kung, H.T.; Soong, K.L; Yeh, Y.C.; Chou, T.S.; Mong, S.H.; Wu, J.T.; Sun, C.P.; Deng, W.P.; Wu, M.F.; Shen, M.L. (25 August 2006). "Effects of Cobalt-60 Exposure on Health of Taiwan Residents Suggest New Approach Needed in Radiation Protection". Dose-Response. 5 (1): 63–75. doi:10.2203/dose-response.06-105.Chen. PMC 2477708. PMID 18648557.
  16. ^ "Petco Recalls Some Stainless Steel Pet Bowls Due to Cobalt-60 Contamination". 10 August 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Asos Belts Seized Over Radioactive Studs". Sky News. 2013-05-28. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  18. ^ The Radiological Accident in Samut Prakarn (PDF). IAEA. 2002. Retrieved 2012-04-14.
  19. ^ "Mexico Informs IAEA of Theft of Dangerous Radioactive Source". IAEA. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  20. ^ a b "Mexico Says Stolen Radioactive Source Found in Field". IAEA. 2013-12-05. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  21. ^ Will Grant (2013-12-05). "BBC News - Mexico radioactive material found, thieves' lives 'in danger'". BBC. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  22. ^ Gabriela Martinez, and Joshua Partlow (6 December 2013). "Thieves who stole lethal radioactive cobalt-60 in Mexico likely doomed". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  23. ^ M. Alex Johnson (6 December 2013). "Six released from Mexican hospital but detained in theft of cobalt-60". NBC News. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  24. ^ Mary Cuddehe (13 November 2014). "What Happens When A Truck Carrying Radioactive Material Gets Robbed In Mexico". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  25. ^ Wu, C. S.; Ambler, E.; Hayward, R. W.; Hoppes, D. D.; Hudson, R. P. (15 February 1957). "Experimental Test of Parity Conservation in Beta Decay". Physical Review. 105 (4): 1413–1415. Bibcode:1957PhRv..105.1413W. doi:10.1103/PhysRev.105.1413.
  26. ^ "The Canadian Ghost Town That Tesla Is Bringing Back to Life". Bloomberg.com. 2017-10-31. Retrieved 2018-05-22.

External linksEdit


Lighter:
cobalt-59
Cobalt-60 is an
isotope of cobalt
Heavier:
cobalt-61
Decay product of:
iron-60
Decay chain
of cobalt-60
Decays to:
nickel-60