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A radionuclide (radioactive nuclide, radioisotope or radioactive isotope) is an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable.

The duration of the half-lives of radioactive atoms have no known limits; the time range is over 55 orders of magnitude.

Radionuclides both occur naturally and are artificially made using nuclear reactors, cyclotrons, particle accelerators or radionuclide generators.

There are about 650 radionuclides with half-lives longer than 60 minutes (see list of nuclides).

Of these, 34 are primordial radionuclides that existed before the creation of the solar system, and there are another 50 radionuclides detectable in nature as daughters of these, or produced naturally on Earth by cosmic radiation.

More than 2400 radionuclides have half-lives less than 60 minutes.

Most of these are only produced artificially, and have very short half-lives.

For comparison, there are about 254 stable nuclides. Even the lightest element, hydrogen, has a well-known radionuclide, tritium.

Elements heavier than lead, and the elements technetium and promethium, exist only as radionuclides.

Unplanned exposure to radionuclides generally has a harmful effect on living organisms including humans, although low levels of exposure occur naturally without harm.

The degree of harm will depend on the nature and extent of the radiation produced, the amount and nature of exposure (close contact, inhalation or ingestion), and the biochemical properties of the element; with increased risk of cancer the most usual consequence.

However, radionuclides with suitable properties are used in nuclear medicine for both diagnosis and treatment.

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