How does nuclear radiation affect humans?

nuclear_592379921.jpgApril 7, 2011 – The events that are happening in Japan have brought horror and memories in many people, especially with the effects of nuclear plant damages. What is radiation?



There are three types:

1. Radiation decay is the process by which unstable atoms undergo spontaneous disintegration to achieve a more stable state.

2. Ionizing radiation is the capability for producing ions when interacting with matter (anything that occupies space) – in other words enough energy to remove an electron from an atom. 

3. Electromagnetic radiation; when discrete bundles of energy known as photons (having no mass or weight ) travel in waves such as gamma, x-rays, UV light, and radio.


Types of radiation

The four main types of radiation are due to:

1. Alpha decay particles are helium nuclei with protons and neutron released from an atom. It is less dangerous because it doesn’t travel very far and can be stopped by a piece of paper. It does not penetrate the skin but if it enters the body through the gut, or the lungs, it comes into direct contact with living cells and, as such, is extremely mutagenic. Because it’s so deadly, most of the cells within the radiation field will be killed.

2.  capitalfmnew particle decay occurs when a neutron in the nucleus of an element is effectively transformed into a proton and an electron. capitalfmnew radiation travels farther than alpha because it is lighter. 

3. Gamma radiation occurs in combination with alpha, capitalfmnew, or positron emission or electron capture. Whenever the ejected particle does not utilize all the available energy for decay, the nucleus contains the excess energy and is in an excited state. The excess energy is released as gamma-ray emission coincident with particle ejection. Gamma radiation goes straight through human bodies. 

4. X-rays. X-rays occur whenever an inner-shell orbital electron is removed and rearrangement of the atomic electrons results, with the release of the element’s characteristic x-ray energy.


In nuclear physics splitting of atoms (fissioning) e.g. Uranium in nuclear reactors creates more than 200 new, man-made radioactive elements. Some “live” for only seconds; some remain radioactive for millions of years. In nuclear reactors, fuel rods emit more radiation and also activate water molecules and forms tritium—a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. 

Once created, these diabolical elements inevitably find their way into the environment and eventually enter the body causing DNA damage. Radiation leads to breaks in chromosomes, which can cause a baby to be born with Down’s syndrome or other serious disorders.


Sources of radiation 


• Cosmic radiation: exposure above the protection of the earth’s atmosphere; space, Airline flight crews are radiation workers

• Terrestrial radiation from the soil.


• Technology, as medical diagnostic equipment, 

• Industrial products;

• Combustible fuels, 

• TV receivers, 

• Cellular phones, 

• Airport inspection systems

• Other minor sources

• Nuclear explosions

• Iodine 131 


The amount of radiation

Like the medicines measured in milligrams (mg) the amount of radiation can be measured in doses calculated in units called grays. The unit for absorbed dose is the gray (Gy), which is equal to 1 J kg-1.   If one receives 9 to 100Gy, death occurs in 2 days. The amount of dose received by the patient is measured in sieverts (sv) with minimal recommend dose being 20 per year. Msv is sv divided by 1000.


• High (5- 50 msv) dose is seen in tests such as Barium or CT scan.

• Medium (0.5-5 msv) dose in abdomen X-ray or TC scans.

• Low (0.5-0.05 msv) dose in Chest, skull, dental  x-rays

In the reactors, the tritium emitted gets to food causing 10% of the tritium to become organically bound within the body, where it has a biological half-life of 21 to 550 days – meaning that it can reside in the body from one to twenty-five years.


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