Radiation and Life Safety

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Radiation Safety|
UML-Radiation and Life Sec 031|
Ryan M. Burnett|


Radiological protection deals with methods and efforts of safeguarding people and the surroundings from the deadly effects of ionizing radiation that includes electromagnetic radiation and particle radiation. Sometimes radiation cannot be controlled or contained and accidents take place causing radiation leaks. For this reason, protocols and radiation safety has become a pre-curser in our everyday life. Ionization which includes solar wind, cosmic radiation and neutron flux found in nuclear reactors. Then there is electromagnetic radiation, under which comes X-rays, gamma radiation and ultra violet rays. Each varies in terms of potency and affect.

Believe it or not, we are surrounded by radiation! As we are all sitting down reading and writing these term papers, electromagnetic radiation from sunlight, electric lights, power cables in the walls and the local radio station are coursing through our body’s. Is it something to worry about? It all depends on how much you absorb, and in what forms.

There are two main types of radiation: electromagnetic radiation, and particle radiation. Both forms carry energy, meaning that if you accumulate too much over time, either in the tissues of your body, or in sensitive electronic equipment, they can potentially do damage. A small amount of ultraviolet radiation can give you a nice tan. Too much can increase your risk for skin cancer. A small amount of radio radiation is enough to pick up a distant station on your radio, but too much in a microwave oven will cook you in seconds! A small amount of particle radiation in, say, the radium dial of a watch, is enough to make it glow in the dark harmlessly, but too much can destroy DNA in your cells and lead to mutations…even death!

Neutron radiation is also encountered in nuclear power plants and high-altitude flight and emitted from some industrial radioactive sources. Alpha radiation is a heavy, very short-range particle, and actually an ejected helium nucleus. Alpha radiation is not able to penetrate human skin, but Alpha-emitting materials can be harmful to humans if the materials are inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through open wounds. A variety of instruments have been designed to measure alpha radiation. An example is a thin window Gaiger-Mueller (GM) probe which can detect the presence of alpha radiation. Although, instruments cannot detect alpha radiation through even a thin layer of water, dust, paper, or other material, because alpha radiation is not penetrating. Alpha radiation travels only a few inches in the air, but is not an external hazard. Some examples of alpha emitters are: radium, radon, uranium, and thorium.

Beta radiation is a light, short-range particle, and actually an ejected electron. Beta radiation may travel several feet in air and is moderately penetrating. Beta radiation can also penetrate human skin to the “germinal layer,” where new skin cells are produced. If high levels of beta emitting sources are allowed to remain on the skin for a certain period of time, they may cause a skin injury. Most beta emitters can be detected with a survey instrument and a thin-window GM probe. Some beta emitters, however, produce very low-energy, poor penetrating radiation that may be difficult or impossible to detect. Examples of some pure beta emitters: strontium-90, carbon-14 and tritium.

Gamma radiation or x-rays are very long range, penetrating electromagnetic radiation. Gamma radiation is able to travel many feet in air and many inches in human tissue. It readily penetrates most materials and is sometimes called “penetrating” radiation. X-rays are like gamma rays. X-rays, too, are penetrating radiation. Sealed radioactive sources and machines that emit gamma radiation and x-rays respectively give manly an external hazard to humans. Gamma radiation and x-rays are...
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