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Radionuclides that find their way into the environment may cause harmful effects as radioactive contamination.They can also cause damage if they are excessively used during treatment or in other ways exposed to living beings, by radiation poisoning.Most of those are only produced artificially, and have very short half-lives.For comparison, there are about 252 stable nuclides.During those processes, the radionuclide is said to undergo radioactive decay.These emissions are considered ionizing radiation because they are powerful enough to liberate an electron from another atom.

Even the lightest element, hydrogen, has a well-known radionuclide, tritium.Radionuclides are present in many homes as they are used inside the most common household smoke detectors.The radionuclide used is americium-241, which is created by bombarding plutonium with neutrons in a nuclear reactor.The range of the half-lives of radioactive atoms have no known limits and span a time range of over 55 orders of magnitude.Radionuclides occur naturally or are artificially produced in nuclear reactors, cyclotrons, particle accelerators or radionuclide generators.

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