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If a cable used to power something is exposed to a radioactive source will it over time make the entire cable radioactive?

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What do you mean by "make wire radioactive"? You mean that the wire itself would become a source of radioactivity? In that case the answer is no unless the wire itself is made of radioactive material. But I suppose you mean normal electrical wire. –  Marek Mar 21 '11 at 10:26
yes I mean normal electrical wire. if the answer is no I will accept it if you add your comment as a reply. –  Makach Mar 21 '11 at 10:28
Yes, of course! That is why so called "nuclear power filters" are sold to people. You should install such a filter asap where the power cable enters Your house. –  Georg Mar 21 '11 at 12:34
no, but perhaps the inverse is true "radioactivity can transfer electricity" –  HDE Mar 21 '11 at 13:16
@HDE: That'd actually make quite an interesting question by itself –  Tobias Kienzler Mar 21 '11 at 14:30

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Are you worried that the cables that go to the Fukushima reactors will carry radioactivity out?

The answer is No. You should read up a bit on radioactivity and educate yourself, since it is one of the facts of life. In the article you will see that it is atoms that are responsible for radioactivity whereas the current in the cables is due to electrons. The parts of the cables that are in a radiation environment will become radioactive, but that activity will remain in the locality, and the length of cable that was exposed. It in no way can be transmitted away from the region the way the current is transmitted.

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there is no mention in the question about the Fukushima, so why mention it in answer? –  mpiktas Mar 21 '11 at 12:45
thanks for the link, very interesting, I was curious about the topic but didn't know where to begin to look –  Makach Mar 21 '11 at 14:27

Electricity is the movement of electrons. Electrons cannot become radioactive. So a current in the cable will not change the radioactivity of the cable.

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But in the original question a cable exposed to a radioactive source could become radioactive - whether used to power something or not –  Martin Beckett Mar 21 '11 at 22:08
@Martin: as you say. The point I want to make is that the current will not alter the radioactivity. –  delete Mar 22 '11 at 10:39
And in either case, the radioactivity will not migrate down the wire. –  Omega Centauri Mar 23 '11 at 4:03

A cable cannot transport radioactivity away from the reactor using electrical current as a transport mechanism.

Nevertheless - if a material is exposed to a source of particles of sufficiently high energy (high energy particle beam, or neutron beam, for instance), the material can become activated (meaning that some of the atoms in the material will become radioactive), and may remain activated for a very long time, so use of materials that had been previously used in particle beam applications must be carefully considered.

So, the answer is yes, in the sense that material can become radioactive from exposure to high energy particles as one would find in a reactor/particle beams and that activation can be long lived and could potentially migrate through reuse/re-purposing of components, but no in the sense that the continued activation is dependent on the local presence of such a high energy source.

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