Self-radiolysis of tritiated water. 1. A comparison of the effects of 60Co γ-rays and tritium β-particles on water and aqueous solutions at room temperature
Monte Carlo simulations were used to investigate the chemistry of pure water and aqueous solutions after irradiation with different kinds of radiation: tritium β-rays and high-energy electrons or 60Co γ-rays. The objective of this work was to elucidate the mechanisms involved in the self-radiolysis of tritiated water, and to examine the importance of the effects of higher “linear energy transfer” (LET) by comparing 3H β-electrons (mean initial energy of ∼5.7 keV) with 60Co γ-rays (∼1-MeV electrons). We considered several chemical systems for which experimental data were available. These included pure water, aqueous solutions of sulfuric acid, and aqueous ferrous sulfate solutions in aerated 0.4 M H2SO4 (Fricke dosimeter). Simulations clearly showed quantitatively different yields of radical and molecular products produced by the radiolysis of water with tritium β− particles compared with corresponding yields from γ or energetic electron radiolysis. As a rule, lower radical and higher molecular yields were observed for 3H β-rays. These differences in yields are completely consistent with differences in the nonhomogeneous distribution of primary transient species (i.e., the structure of electron tracks) in the two cases. In the “short-track” (columnar) geometry of tritium β-electron radiolysis, radicals were formed in much closer initial proximity than in the “spur” (spherical) geometry of γ radiolysis. The “short-track” geometry favors radical-radical reactions in the diffusing tracks, which increases the proportion of molecular products at the expense of the radical products. The same trend in yields of radical and molecular products was also found under acidic conditions as well as in the aerated Fricke dosimeter. Unfortunately, comparison with experimental data was rather limited due to the paucity of experimental information for the radiolysis of water by 3H β-particles. Despite this deficiency, our simulations reproduced very well the significant increase observed in the yield of H2 at the microsecond time scale for 3H β-electrons (∼0.6 molecule/100 eV) compared to 60Co γ-rays (0.45 molecule/100 eV). Furthermore, our predicted yield of Fe3+ ions for tritium β-electron radiolysis of Fricke (acidic ferrous sulfate) solutions compared well with the literature values (∼11.9–12.9 molecules/100 eV). In particular, it was shown that the measured yield of the Fricke dosimeter was best reproduced if a single, “mean” or “equivalent” electron energy of ∼7.8 keV was used to mimic the energy deposition by the tritium β-particles (rather than the commonly used mean of ∼5.7 keV that mimics the tritium beta energy spectrum), in full accordance with a recommendation of ICRU Report 17. This decrease in G(Fe3+) compared to the value observed for 60Co γ-rays (15.5 ± 0.2 molecules/100 eV) was mostly due to the decrease in the yield of the escape radical products. Such results, even if fragmentary, corroborate very well with previous experimental and theoretical work, and support a model of tritium β radiolysis mainly driven by the chemical action of short tracks of high local LET.