Answer to Question #9260 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Radiation Basics — Beta Particles (negative and positive) and Electrons

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I would like to know if there is a general catalog showing, for each radionuclide, the spectrum of emitted beta-particles. Such a document is important in practice. In particular, it seems that it is possible to identify an unknown radioisotope if the maximum kinetic energy of emitted betas (the spectrum end point) is known.


There are a number of sources that provide information about beta particle energies and spectra. Most, however, display data based on specification of a particular radionuclide. Some do allow one to use the beta particle maximum (endpoint) energy to identify possible radionuclides. If you are a member of the Health Physics Society, you may access the HP Toolbox on the Members Only opening page. Open the Toolbox and under the "Beta Radiation" heading you will find links to some useful sources.

If you are not a member, you will find a convenient online source available through Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Click on "Radiation search" and on the page that comes up type in the beta endpoint energy (with reasonable uncertainty limits), select the "ß-" button, and click on "Search." You will see a list of possible beta-emitting radionuclides that meet the selected maximum energy criteria. If you want the shape of the beta ray spectrum, a convenient graphic presentation is available via the Radiological Toolbox that may be downloaded from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission website. When you run the application, click on "Decay Data," select the radionuclide from the drop-down list, click the "Beta Spectrum" button, and then click "Display" to show the desired spectrum.

If you have access to some versions of the Radiological Health Handbook (original publication by U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, Bureau of Radiological Health, Rockville, Maryland, 1970), a compilation of beta-emitters arranged by maximum beta energy and half-life is included. Later versions of the handbook by Bernard Shleien may contain similar tables, but I do not have access to a copy to check the contents. The Radiological Health Handbooks are generally out of print, but some providers do have versions available through the internet. Copies of the 1970 version of the handbook are available at a rather reasonable cost from Rad-Ware. Other sites may also provide access to the handbook, and this example should not be taken as a specific recommendation of this vendor.

I hope this is useful to you.

George Chabot, PhD, CHP

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
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