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See fission product yield for a comparison with other radioactive fission products.
I-131 is also a major fission product of uranium-233, produced from thorium.
Due to its mode of beta decay, iodine-131 is notable for causing mutation and death in cells that it penetrates, and other cells up to several millimeters away.
For example, children treated with moderate dose of I-131 for thyroid adenomas had a detectable increase in thyroid cancer, but children treated with a much higher dose did not.
Likewise, most studies of very-high-dose I-131 for treatment of Graves disease have failed to find any increase in thyroid cancer, even though there is linear increase in thyroid cancer risk with I-131 absorption at moderate doses.
Thus, iodine-131 is increasingly less employed in small doses in medical use (especially in children), but increasingly is used only in large and maximal treatment doses, as a way of killing targeted tissues.
This is known as "therapeutic use." Iodine-131 can be "seen" by nuclear medicine imaging techniques (i.e., gamma cameras) whenever it is given for therapeutic use, since about 10% of its energy and radiation dose is via gamma radiation.
It has a radioactive decay half-life of about eight days.
It is associated with nuclear energy, medical diagnostic and treatment procedures, and natural gas production.
It also plays a major role as a radioactive isotope present in nuclear fission products, and was a significant contributor to the health hazards from open-air atomic bomb testing in the 1950s, and from the Chernobyl disaster, as well as being a large fraction of the contamination hazard in the first weeks in the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
This is because I-131 is a major uranium, plutonium fission product, comprising nearly 3% of the total products of fission (by weight).
However, since the other 90% of radiation (beta radiation) causes tissue damage without contributing to any ability to see or "image" the isotope, other less-damaging radioisotopes of iodine such as iodine-123 (see isotopes of iodine) are preferred in situations when only nuclear imaging is required.