Here are a few facts about radiation:
What is radiation: Radiation is a form of energy. Ionizing radiation which is vastly different from heat radiation (what you feel off of a fire) is the radiation that is cause for concern.
Why is there radiation: Ionizing radiation occurs when an atoms nucleus is unstable either naturally or man-made. Energy is given off spontaneously in an attempt for the atom to reach a stable state that does not release any energy spontaneously
There are 4 types of radiation:
Alpha particles pose the smallest external threat. They deposit all of their energy very quickly and can be stopped by the dead skin layer on your skin. They do however pose a pretty significant threat if alpha particles were to be ingested/inhaled. The soft tissue inside of your body is very sensitive to alpha radiation because all of the energy present will be deposited in your tissue.
Beta particles like alpha particles do not pose a huge external threat. They can not be stopped by a piece of paper, but can be easily stopped by glass, plastics or aluminum foil. If the energy level of a beta particle is extremely high and ther is a large acute dose present, damage to the skin can occur. Like alphas though they are most dangerous when ingested or inhaled.
Gamma rays or photons or x-rays is the radiation catorgory that everyone seems to flip out about the most. While gamma rays/photons/x-rays are not stopped by glass or plastics, they are easily stopped by lead and large amounts of concrete. Gammas do pose an external hazard, but just like betas it is all dependent on the dose and energy levels (there are other factors, but I’ll talk about them later). Gamma emitters are frequently used in the medical industy. If you have ever had a thyroid check you most certainly have swollowed a radioactive isotope! But don’t worry. This particular isotopes are chosen because the radiation is not stopped by your soft tissue or bones or skin. It comes straight out of you, depositing very little energy into you body. The same principle exists for an x-ray machine. The x-rays go straight through you to create the picture and deposit very little energy inside the body.
Did you know men are more radioactive than women?!?!?!: While this is true in most cases it isn’t always. There are naturally radioactive materials that we ingest almost every single day. The most prominant internal emitter (which means you have ingested it) is potassium-40 (K-40). K-40 is found in bananas and is stored in the body and used in many of the everyday bodily functions. If I remembered my physiology better I could tell you more about how it is used, but its an important factor in your body. Men tend to have more muscle than women. Muscle is one of the main places in your body that K-40 is stored. This leads to the conclustion that men are normally more radioactive than women because we have a higher fat content and generally speaking have less muscle than a man.
What is natural background radiation: Background radiation is the amount of radiation present before an expsoure (artificial or natural). Natural background radiation is radiation that is produced by the Earth and found through out all of nature. Many people study and track the natural background around the world. In some parts of India the general public recieves an annual dose of over 500 mrem (we’ll talk about units some other time). Their highest recorded annual dose was over 5 rem. The federal limit in the US for annual exposure is 5 rem. It is interesting to note that there are areas in the world that naturally get the max allowable exposure (by US federal law) and till continue to leave happily. Some areas of Brazil can get over double the allowable max exposure. The background in your area is dependent on soil type, what types of metal ore is found in your area, concentration of soil, concentration of radioactive material in the soil and other factors.
How to I portect myself: First off never go into an area marked “radiation area”, “contamination area” or if you see the yellow and magenta sign with the trefoil unless you are trained and authorized. If you are trained and authorized to go into that area always practice ALARA (as low and reasonably achieveable). This is done by utilizing the principles of time, distance and shielding. Never stay in an area you don’t have to be in too long. Do as much as you can from a distance. If you have to stay in an area and you know where the source is DO NOT stand next to it till you have to be near it. And always protect your self with PPE (coats, gloves, respirator (maybe)). If you can try to always work with something solid between you and the source, Plexiglass shield, glove boxes, and etc.
So I think that is all for today. I’ll probably try to post some fun statistics or weird facts soon.