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GAMMA RAYS & NATURAL RADIATION

Nuclear logging instruments can be divided into a passive group that only contain radiation
detectors, and an active group that contain both a radioactive source and detectors. These
two types of tools measure:

 Natural Radioactivity - usually by means of recording the gamma-rays that are


emitted by elements in the formation, and
 Induced Radioactivity -which requires a radioactive source to emit neutrons or
gamma-rays that penetrate the borehole and the surrounding formation. The
gamma-ray density and neutron porosity tools that use such radioactive sources
will be discussed in different subject areas.
In this section, we will deal exclusively with natural radioactivity.

NATURAL RADIOACTIVE ELEMENTS


Radioactivity is associated with the structure of chemical elements. An element contains
protons and neutrons in its nucleus, along with electrons in one or more orbits. Each element
is identified by its unique number of protons (Z-number). The majority of elements consist of a
mixture of two or more isotopes.
Isotopes have the same number of protons, but a different number of neutrons. Many isotopes
are unstable and emit alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation, to permute to a stable isotope. Of
these three types of radiation, only the gamma-rays can be recorded with logging tools in the
well, because beta and alpha particles have a very limited penetration depth -often less than
one cm in heavy materials. Gamma-rays (photons) have a considerable penetration depth and
thus allow recording of natural gamma-radiation emitted by rocks through steel casing. This
means that natural gamma ray logs are often run in both cased and open holes.

Origin of Natural Gamma Radiation


The gamma rays encountered in the borehole can be chiefly attributed to 3 main
sources in nature: the radioactive elements in the uranium group, the thorium
group, and potassium.
U-Ra : uranium-radium elements and their unstable daughter series of elements

Th : thorium series

K40 : potassium-40 isotope

Uranium 235, uranium 238, and thorium 232 all decay to stable lead isotopes, via a long chain
of daughter products. An isotope of potassium, K 40, decays to argon, and gives off a gamma
ray in the process.
It should be noted that each type of decay is characterized by a gamma ray of a specific
energy (wavelength), and the frequency of occurrence for each decay energy is different.
Potassium-40 emits gamma-rays with one single radiation energy (1.46 MeV), whereas the U-
Ra and Th series display a wide range of energies. The radiation intensity (photons per gram
per second) is:

 2600 for U-RA


 12000 for Th
 3 for K40
Figure 1 shows this relationship between gamma ray energy and frequency of occurrence.
This is an important concept, since it is used as the basis for measurement in the natural
gamma spectroscopy tools.
Figure 1

Radioactivity in Shales
The basic constituents of igneous rocks are:

 quartz, with a low degree of radioactivity


 feldspars and mica's, with K40 and sometimes U-Ra and Th
Feldspars decompose at a relatively rapid rate into clay minerals, and radioactive-elements
are trapped in their rock fabric. Because clay minerals are the principle constituents of shales,
these are generally radioactive as well.
An "average" shale contains 6 ppm uranium, 12 ppm thorium, and 2% potassium. Since the
various gamma ray sources are not all equally effective, it is more informative to consider this
mix of radioactive materials on a common basis, e.g., by reference to potassium equivalents
(i.e., the amount of potassium that produces the same number of gamma rays per unit of
time). Reduced to a common denominator, the average shale contains 2% potassium along
with uranium equivalent to 4.3% potassium, and thorium equivalent to 3.5% potassium.
Average shales are hard to find. Shale, being a mixture of clay minerals, sand, silts, and other
extraneous materials, exhibits no "standard" gamma ray activity. Indeed, the main clay
minerals vary enormously in their natural radioactivity: kaolinite has no potassium, illite has
between 4% and 8% potassium, while montmorillonite less than 1%. Occasionally, natural
radioactivity may be due to the presence of dissolved potassium or other salts in shale pore
water. Additionally, shale is not necessarily the strongest gamma-ray emitting lithology in a
reservoir. Very good reservoir sands found in some parts of the North Sea contain mica, which
holds a significant amount of radioactive potassium. This situation can lead to gamma-
radiation levels in clean sands that are as high as levels in the surrounding shales.
GAMMA-RAY DETECTORS
The first measuring instruments used Geiger-Müller tubes to detect gamma-rays. These tubes
have the disadvantages that the count-rates are low and the output is not proportional to the
energy of the individually detected gamma photons. Since the 1960’s, scintillation counters
have been used to measure radioactivity in boreholes. These counters are based on the
physical phenomenon that when gamma-rays interact with the lattice of the scintillation crystal,
visible light flashes are produced. The most widely used crystal material has been the
Thallium-activated sodium iodide NaI, but other materials such a BGO (Bithmuth-germanium-
oxide) and GSO (Gadolinium oxy-ortho-silicate) gain in popularity due to their higher density,
and therefore more efficient conversion of gamma-rays to scintillations. Figure 2 (Scintillation
detector) shows an example of an NaI detector. The one main exception is within the MWD
industry. Many MWD natural gamma-ray tools still rely on several banks of Geiger-Muller
tubes working together in order to accomplish their task.

Figure 2

Operating Principle of Gamma Ray Tools


When a gamma ray strikes the crystal, a single photon of light is emitted. This tiny flash of light
then strikes a photo-cathode made from cesium-antimony or silver-magnesium. When the
light quanta hit the photo-cathode of a photo-multiplier, they dislodge one or more electrons.
These electrons are in turn accelerated by a cascade circuit of electrodes, where each
subsequent electrode has a higher voltage, and more electrons are dislodged at each stage.
This multiplication process leads to an avalanche of electrons that produce a measurable
electric pulse at the last anode of the tube. An attractive feature of this technique is that the
pulse height is proportional to the energy of the original gamma-photon allowing the
detector to be used as a gamma-ray spectroscopy device. The system has a very short
"dead time" and can register many counts per second without becoming swamped by
numerous signals.