Ionizing radiation

Ionizing radiation (ionising radiation) is radiation that carries enough energy to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, thereby ionizing them. Ionizing radiation is made up of energetic subatomic particles, ions or atoms moving at high speeds (usually greater than 1% of the speed of light), and electromagnetic waves on the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Gamma rays, X-rays, and the higher ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum are ionizing, whereas the lower ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum and all the spectrum below UV, including visible light (including nearly all types of laser light), infrared, microwaves, and radio waves are considered non-ionizing radiation. The boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that occurs in the ultraviolet is not sharply defined, since different molecules and atoms ionize at different energies. Conventional definition places the boundary at a photon energy between 10 eV and 33 eV in the ultraviolet (see definition boundary section below).

Typical ionizing subatomic particles from radioactivity include alpha particles, beta particles and neutrons. Almost all products of radioactive decay are ionizing because the energy of radioactive decay is typically far higher than that required to ionize. Other subatomic ionizing particles which occur naturally are muons, mesons, positrons, and other particles that constitute the secondary cosmic rays that are produced after primary cosmic rays interact with Earth's atmosphere.[1][2] Cosmic rays are generated by stars and certain celestial events such as supernova explosions. Cosmic rays may also produce radioisotopes on Earth (for example, carbon-14), which in turn decay and produce ionizing radiation. Cosmic rays and the decay of radioactive isotopes are the primary sources of natural ionizing radiation on Earth referred to as background radiation. Ionizing radiation can also be generated artificially by X-ray tubes, particle accelerators, and any of the various methods that produce radioisotopes artificially.

Ionizing radiation is not detectable by human senses, so radiation detection instruments such as Geiger counters must be used to indicate its presence and measure it. However, high intensities can cause emission of visible light upon interaction with matter, such as in Cherenkov radiation and radioluminescence. Ionizing radiation is used in a wide variety of fields such as medicine, nuclear power, research, manufacturing, construction, and many other areas, but presents a health hazard if proper measures against undesired exposure aren't followed. Exposure to ionizing radiation causes damage to living tissue, and can result in radiation burns, cell damage, radiation sickness, cancer, and death.

Types

Alfa beta gamma neutron radiation
Alpha (α) radiation consists of a fast-moving helium-4 (4
He
) nucleus and is stopped by a sheet of paper. Beta (β) radiation, consisting of electrons, is halted by an aluminium plate. Gamma (γ) radiation, consisting of energetic photons, is eventually absorbed as it penetrates a dense material. Neutron (n) radiation consists of free neutrons that are blocked by light elements, like hydrogen, which slow and/or capture them. Not shown: galactic cosmic rays that consist of energetic charged nuclei such as protons, helium nuclei, and high-charged nuclei called HZE ions.
Cloud chambers played an important role of particle detectors
Cloud chambers are one of few ways of visualizing ionizing radiation. They were employed mainly in research in the early days of particle physics, but remain an important education tool today.

Ionizing radiation is categorized by the nature of the particles or electromagnetic waves that create the ionizing effect. These have different ionization mechanisms, and may be grouped as directly or indirectly ionizing.

Directly ionizing

Any charged massive particle can ionize atoms directly by fundamental interaction through the Coulomb force if it carries sufficient kinetic energy. This includes atomic nuclei, electrons, muons, charged pions, protons, and energetic charged nuclei stripped of their electrons. When moving at relativistic speeds these particles have enough kinetic energy to be ionizing, but relativistic speeds are not required. For example, a typical alpha particle is ionizing, but moves at about 5% c, and an electron with 33 eV (enough to ionize) moves at about 1% c.

The first two ionizing sources to be recognized were given special names used today: Helium nuclei ejected from atomic nuclei are called alpha particles, and electrons ejected usually (but not always) at relativistic speeds, are called beta particles.

Natural cosmic rays are made up primarily of relativistic protons but also include heavier atomic nuclei like helium ions and HZE ions. In the atmosphere such particles are often stopped by air molecules, and this produces short-lived charged pions, which soon decay to muons, a primary type of cosmic ray radiation that reaches the ground (and also penetrates it to some extent). Pions can also be produced in large amounts in particle accelerators.

Alpha particles

Alpha particles consist of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to a helium nucleus. Alpha particle emissions are generally produced in the process of alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways. Alpha particles are named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, α. The symbol for the alpha particle is α or α2+. Because they are identical to helium nuclei, they are also sometimes written as He2+
or 4
2
He2+
indicating a Helium ion with a +2 charge (missing its two electrons). If the ion gains electrons from its environment, the alpha particle can be written as a normal (electrically neutral) helium atom 4
2
He
.

Alpha particles are a hugely ionizing form of particle radiation. When they result from radioactive alpha decay they have low penetration depth. In this case they can be absorbed by a few centimeters of air, or by the skin. More powerful, long range alpha particles from ternary fission are three times as energetic, and penetrate proportionately farther in air. The helium nuclei that form 10-12% of cosmic rays, are also usually of much higher energy than those produced by nuclear decay processes, and when encountered in space, are thus able to traverse the human body and dense shielding. However, this type of radiation is significantly attenuated by the Earth's atmosphere, which is a radiation shield equivalent to about 10 meters of water.[3]

Beta particles

Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei, such as potassium-40. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay. They are designated by the Greek letter beta (β). There are two forms of beta decay, β and β+, which respectively give rise to the electron and the positron.[4]

When something is said to have radioactive contamination, it often means that there are beta particles being emitted from its surface, detectable with a Geiger counter or other radiation detector. When brought into proximity to the beta emitter, the detector will indicate a dramatic increase in radioactivity. When the detector probe is covered with a shield to block the beta rays, the indication will be reduced dramatically.

High-energy beta particles may produce X-rays known as bremsstrahlung ("braking radiation") or secondary electrons (delta ray) as they pass through matter. Both of these can cause an indirect ionization effect.

Bremsstrahlung is of concern when shielding beta emitters, as the interaction of beta particles with the shielding material produces Bremsstrahlung. This effect is greater with material of high atomic numbers, so material with low atomic numbers is used for beta source shielding.

Positrons and other types of antimatter

The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. When a low-energy positron collides with a low-energy electron, annihilation occurs, resulting in their conversion into the energy of two or more gamma ray photons (see electron–positron annihilation).

Positrons can be generated by positron emission nuclear decay (through weak interactions), or by pair production from a sufficiently energetic photon. Positrons are common artificial sources of ionizing radiation used in medical positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

As positrons are positively charged particles they can also directly ionize an atom through Coulomb interactions.

Charged nuclei

Charged nuclei are characteristic of galactic cosmic rays and solar particle events and except for alpha particles (charged helium nuclei) have no natural sources on the earth. In space, however, very high energy protons, helium nuclei, and HZE ions can be initially stopped by relatively thin layers of shielding, clothes, or skin. However, the resulting interaction will generate secondary radiation and cause cascading biological effects. If just one atom of tissue is displaced by an energetic proton, for example, the collision will cause further interactions in the body. This is called "linear energy transfer" (LET), which utilizes elastic scattering.

LET can be visualized as a billiard ball hitting another in the manner of the conservation of momentum, sending both away with the energy of the first ball divided between the two unequally. When a charged nucleus strikes a relatively slow-moving nucleus of an object in space, LET occurs and neutrons, alpha particles, low-energy protons, and other nuclei will be released by the collisions and contribute to the total absorbed dose of tissue.[5]

Indirectly ionizing

Indirect ionizing radiation is electrically neutral and therefore does not interact strongly with matter. The bulk of the ionization effects are due to secondary ionizations.

An example of indirectly ionizing radiation is neutron radiation.

Photon radiation

EM-spectrum
Different types of electromagnetic radiation
Pb-gamma-xs
The total absorption coefficient of lead (atomic number 82) for gamma rays, plotted versus gamma energy, and the contributions by the three effects. Here, the photoelectric effect dominates at low energy. Above 5 MeV, pair production starts to dominate.

Even though photons are electrically neutral, they can ionize atoms directly through the photoelectric effect and the Compton effect. Either of those interactions will cause the ejection of an electron from an atom at relativistic speeds, turning that electron into a beta particle (secondary beta particle) that will ionize many other atoms. Since most of the affected atoms are ionized directly by the secondary beta particles, photons are called indirectly ionizing radiation.[6]

Photon radiation is called gamma rays if produced by a nuclear reaction, subatomic particle decay, or radioactive decay within the nucleus. It is otherwise called x-rays if produced outside the nucleus. The generic term photon is therefore used to describe both.[7][8][9]

X-rays normally have a lower energy than gamma rays, and an older convention was to define the boundary as a wavelength of 10−11 m or a photon energy of 100 keV.[10] That threshold was driven by limitations of older X-ray tubes and low awareness of isomeric transitions. Modern technologies and discoveries have resulted in an overlap between X-ray and gamma energies. In many fields they are functionally identical, differing for terrestrial studies only in origin of the radiation. In astronomy, however, where radiation origin often cannot be reliably determined, the old energy division has been preserved, with X-rays defined as being between about 120 eV and 120 keV, and gamma rays as being of any energy above 100 to 120 keV, regardless of source. Most astronomical "gamma-ray astronomy" are known not to originate in nuclear radioactive processes but, rather, result from processes like those that produce astronomical X-rays, except driven by much more energetic electrons.

Photoelectric absorption is the dominant mechanism in organic materials for photon energies below 100 keV, typical of classical X-ray tube originated X-rays. At energies beyond 100 keV, photons ionize matter increasingly through the Compton effect, and then indirectly through pair production at energies beyond 5 MeV. The accompanying interaction diagram shows two Compton scatterings happening sequentially. In every scattering event, the gamma ray transfers energy to an electron, and it continues on its path in a different direction and with reduced energy.

Definition boundary for lower-energy photons

The lowest ionization energy of any element is 3.89 eV, for caesium. However, US Federal Communications Commission material defines ionizing radiation as that with a photon energy greater than 10 eV (equivalent to a far ultraviolet wavelength of 124 nanometers).[11] Roughly, this corresponds to both the first ionization energy of oxygen, and the ionization energy of hydrogen, both about 14 eV.[12] In some Environmental Protection Agency references, the ionization of a typical water molecule at an energy of 33 eV is referenced[13] as the appropriate biological threshold for ionizing radiation: this value represents the so-called W-value, the colloquial name for the ICRU's mean energy expended in a gas per ion pair formed,[14] which combines ionization energy plus the energy lost to other processes such as excitation.[15] At 38 nanometers wavelength for electromagnetic radiation, 33 eV is close to the energy at the conventional 10 nm wavelength transition between extreme ultraviolet and X-ray radiation, which occurs at about 125 eV. Thus, X-ray radiation is always ionizing, but only extreme-ultraviolet radiation can be considered ionizing under all definitions.

As noted, the biological effect of ionizing radiation on cells somewhat resembles that of a broader spectrum of molecularly damaging radiation, which overlaps ionizing radiation and extends beyond, to somewhat lower energies into all regions of UV and sometimes visible light in some systems (such as photosynthetic systems in leaves). Although DNA is always susceptible to damage by ionizing radiation, the DNA molecule may also be damaged by radiation with enough energy to excite certain molecular bonds to form thymine dimers. This energy may be less than ionizing, but near to it. A good example is ultraviolet spectrum energy which begins at about 3.1 eV (400 nm) at close to the same energy level which can cause sunburn to unprotected skin, as a result of photoreactions in collagen and (in the UV-B range) also damage in DNA (for example, pyrimidine dimers). Thus, the mid and lower ultraviolet electromagnetic spectrum is damaging to biological tissues as a result of electronic excitation in molecules which falls short of ionization, but produces similar non-thermal effects. To some extent, visible light and also ultraviolet A (UVA) which is closest to visible energies, have been proven to result in formation of reactive oxygen species in skin, which cause indirect damage since these are electronically excited molecules which can inflict reactive damage, although they do not cause sunburn (erythema).[16] Like ionization-damage, all these effects in skin are beyond those produced by simple thermal effects.

Strahlenarten en
Radiation interaction: gamma rays are represented by wavy lines, charged particles and neutrons by straight lines. The small circles show where ionization occurs.

Neutrons

Neutrons have zero electrical charge and thus often do not directly cause ionization in a single step or interaction with matter. However, fast neutrons will interact with the protons in hydrogen via LET, and this mechanism scatters the nuclei of the materials in the target area, causing direct ionization of the hydrogen atoms. When neutrons strike the hydrogen nuclei, proton radiation (fast protons) results. These protons are themselves ionizing because they are of high energy, are charged, and interact with the electrons in matter.

Neutrons that strike other nuclei besides hydrogen will transfer less energy to the other particle if LET does occur. But, for many nuclei struck by neutrons, inelastic scattering occurs. Whether elastic or inelastic scatter occurs is dependent on the speed of the neutron, whether fast or thermal or somewhere in between. It is also dependent on the nuclei it strikes and its neutron cross section.

In inelastic scattering, neutrons are readily absorbed in a process called neutron capture and attributes to the neutron activation of the nucleus. Neutron interactions with most types of matter in this manner usually produce radioactive nuclei. The abundant oxygen-16 nucleus, for example, undergoes neutron activation, rapidly decays by a proton emission forming nitrogen-16, which decays to oxygen-16. The short-lived nitrogen-16 decay emits a powerful beta ray. This process can be written as:

16O (n,p) 16N (fast neutron capture possible with >11 MeV neutron)

16N → 16O + β (Decay t1/2 = 7.13 s)

This high-energy β further interacts rapidly with other nuclei, emitting high-energy γ via Bremsstrahlung

While not a favorable reaction, the 16O (n,p) 16N reaction is a major source of X-rays emitted from the cooling water of a pressurized water reactor and contributes enormously to the radiation generated by a water-cooled nuclear reactor while operating.

For the best shielding of neutrons, hydrocarbons that have an abundance of hydrogen are used.

In fissile materials, secondary neutrons may produce nuclear chain reactions, causing a larger amount of ionization from the daughter products of fission.

Outside the nucleus, free neutrons are unstable and have a mean lifetime of 14 minutes, 42 seconds. Free neutrons decay by emission of an electron and an electron antineutrino to become a proton, a process known as beta decay:[17]

In the adjacent diagram, a neutron collides with a proton of the target material, and then becomes a fast recoil proton that ionizes in turn. At the end of its path, the neutron is captured by a nucleus in an (n,γ)-reaction that leads to the emission of a neutron capture photon. Such photons always have enough energy to qualify as ionizing radiation.

Physical effects

Cyclotron with glowing beam
Ionized air glows blue around a beam of particulate ionizing radiation from a cyclotron

Nuclear effects

Neutron radiation, alpha radiation, and extremely energetic gamma (> ~20 MeV) can cause nuclear transmutation and induced radioactivity. The relevant mechanisms are neutron activation, alpha absorption, and photodisintegration. A large enough number of transmutations can change macroscopic properties and cause targets to become radioactive themselves, even after the original source is removed.

Chemical effects

Ionization of molecules can lead to radiolysis (breaking chemical bonds), and formation of highly reactive free radicals. These free radicals may then react chemically with neighbouring materials even after the original radiation has stopped. (e.g., ozone cracking of polymers by ozone formed by ionization of air). Ionizing radiation can also accelerate existing chemical reactions such as polymerization and corrosion, by contributing to the activation energy required for the reaction. Optical materials darken under the effect of ionizing radiation.

High-intensity ionizing radiation in air can produce a visible ionized air glow of telltale bluish-purplish color. The glow can be observed, e.g., during criticality accidents, around mushroom clouds shortly after a nuclear explosion, or inside of a damaged nuclear reactor like during the Chernobyl disaster.

Monatomic fluids, e.g. molten sodium, have no chemical bonds to break and no crystal lattice to disturb, so they are immune to the chemical effects of ionizing radiation. Simple diatomic compounds with very negative enthalpy of formation, such as hydrogen fluoride will reform rapidly and spontaneously after ionization.

Electrical effects

Ionization of materials temporarily increases their conductivity, potentially permitting damaging current levels. This is a particular hazard in semiconductor microelectronics employed in electronic equipment, with subsequent currents introducing operation errors or even permanently damaging the devices. Devices intended for high radiation environments such as the nuclear industry and extra atmospheric (space) applications may be made radiation hard to resist such effects through design, material selection, and fabrication methods.

Proton radiation found in space can also cause single-event upsets in digital circuits.

The electrical effects of ionizing radiation are exploited in gas-filled radiation detectors, e.g. the Geiger-Muller counter or the ion chamber.

Health effects

In general, ionizing radiation is harmful and potentially lethal to living beings but some types have medical applications in radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and thyrotoxicosis.

Most adverse health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation may be grouped in two general categories:

  • deterministic effects (harmful tissue reactions) due in large part to killing or malfunction of cells following high doses from radiation burns
  • stochastic effects, i.e., cancer and heritable effects involving either cancer development in exposed individuals owing to mutation of somatic cells or heritable disease in their offspring owing to mutation of reproductive (germ) cells.[18]

The most common impact is stochastic induction of cancer with a latent period of years or decades after exposure. For example, ionizing radiation is the sole cause of chronic myelogenous leukemia.[19] The mechanism by which this occurs is well understood, but quantitative models predicting the level of risk remain controversial. The most widely accepted model posits that the incidence of cancers due to ionizing radiation increases linearly with effective radiation dose at a rate of 5.5% per sievert.[20] If this linear model is correct, then natural background radiation is the most hazardous source of radiation to general public health, followed by medical imaging as a close second. Other stochastic effects of ionizing radiation are teratogenesis, cognitive decline, and heart disease.

Measurement

The table below shows radiation and dose quantities in SI and non-SI units. The relationships of the ICRP dose quantities are shown in the accompanying diagram.

Radioactivity and radiation
Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation
Quantity Detector CGS units SI units Other units
Disintegration rate curie becquerel
Particle flux Geiger counter, proportional counter, scintillator counts/cm2 · second counts/metre2 · second counts per minute, particles per cm2 per second
Energy fluence thermoluminescent dosimeter, film badge dosimeter MeV/cm2 joule/metre2
Beam energy proportional counter electronvolt joule
Linear energy transfer derived quantity MeV/cm Joule/metre keV/μm
Kerma ionization chamber, semiconductor detector, quartz fiber dosimeter, Kearny fallout meter esu/cm3 gray roentgen
Absorbed dose calorimeter rad gray rep
Equivalent dose derived quantity rem sievert
Effective dose derived quantity rem sievert BRET
Committed dose derived quantity rem sievert banana equivalent dose

Uses

Ionizing radiation has many industrial, military, and medical uses. Its usefulness must be balanced with its hazards, a compromise that has shifted over time. For example, at one time, assistants in shoe shops used X-rays to check a child's shoe size, but this practice was halted when the risks of ionizing radiation were better understood.[21]

Neutron radiation is essential to the working of nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons. The penetrating power of x-ray, gamma, beta, and positron radiation is used for medical imaging, nondestructive testing, and a variety of industrial gauges. Radioactive tracers are used in medical and industrial applications, as well as biological and radiation chemistry. Alpha radiation is used in static eliminators and smoke detectors. The sterilizing effects of ionizing radiation are useful for cleaning medical instruments, food irradiation, and the sterile insect technique. Measurements of carbon-14, can be used to date the remains of long-dead organisms (such as wood that is thousands of years old).

Sources of radiation

Ionizing radiation is generated through nuclear reactions, nuclear decay, by very high temperature, or via acceleration of charged particles in electromagnetic fields. Natural sources include the sun, lightning and supernova explosions. Artificial sources include nuclear reactors, particle accelerators, and x-ray tubes.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) itemized types of human exposures.

Type of radiation exposures
Public exposure
Natural Sources Normal occurrences Cosmic radiation
Terrestrial radiation
Enhanced sources Metal mining and smelting
Phosphate industry
Coal mining and power production from coal
Oil and gas drilling
Rare earth and titanium dioxide industries
Zirconium and ceramics industries
Application of radium and thorium
Other exposure situations
Man-made sources Peaceful purposes Nuclear power production
Transport of nuclear and radioactive material
Application other than nuclear power
Military purposes Nuclear tests
Residues in the environment. Nuclear fallout
Historical situations
Exposure from accidents
Occupational radiation exposure
Natural Sources Cosmic ray exposures of aircrew and space crew
Exposures in extractive and processing industries
Gas and oil extraction industries
Radon exposure in workplaces other than mines
Man-made sources Peaceful purposes Nuclear power industries
Medical uses of radiation
Industrial uses of radiation
Miscellaneous uses
Military purposes Other exposed workers
Source UNSCEAR 2008 Annex B retrieved 2011-7-4

The International Commission on Radiological Protection manages the International System of Radiological Protection, which sets recommended limits for dose uptake.

Background radiation

Background radiation comes from both natural and man-made sources.

The global average exposure of humans to ionizing radiation is about 3 mSv (0.3 rem) per year, 80% of which comes from nature. The remaining 20% results from exposure to man-made radiation sources, primarily from medical imaging. Average man-made exposure is much higher in developed countries, mostly due to CT scans and nuclear medicine.

Natural background radiation comes from five primary sources: cosmic radiation, solar radiation, external terrestrial sources, radiation in the human body, and radon.

The background rate for natural radiation varies considerably with location, being as low as 1.5 mSv/a (1.5 mSv per year) in some areas and over 100 mSv/a in others. The highest level of purely natural radiation recorded on the Earth's surface is 90 µGy/h (0.8 Gy/a) on a Brazilian black beach composed of monazite.[22] The highest background radiation in an inhabited area is found in Ramsar, primarily due to naturally radioactive limestone used as a building material. Some 2000 of the most exposed residents receive an average radiation dose of 10 mGy per year, (1 rad/yr) ten times more than the ICRP recommended limit for exposure to the public from artificial sources.[23] Record levels were found in a house where the effective radiation dose due to external radiation was 135 mSv/a, (13.5 rem/yr) and the committed dose from radon was 640 mSv/a (64.0 rem/yr).[24] This unique case is over 200 times higher than the world average background radiation. Despite the high levels of background radiation that the residents of Ramsar receive there is no compelling evidence that they experience a greater health risks. The ICRP recommendations are conservative limits and may represent an over representation of the actual health risk. Generally radiation safety organization recommend the most conservative limits assuming it is best to err on the side of caution. This level of caution is appropriate but should not be used to create fear about background radiation danger. Radiation danger from background radiation may be a serious threat but is more likely a small overall risk compared to all other factors in the environment.

Cosmic radiation

The Earth, and all living things on it, are constantly bombarded by radiation from outside our solar system. This cosmic radiation consists of relativistic particles: positively charged nuclei (ions) from 1 amu protons (about 85% of it) to 26 amu iron nuclei and even beyond. (The high-atomic number particles are called HZE ions.) The energy of this radiation can far exceed that which humans can create, even in the largest particle accelerators (see ultra-high-energy cosmic ray). This radiation interacts in the atmosphere to create secondary radiation that rains down, including x-rays, muons, protons, antiprotons, alpha particles, pions, electrons, positrons, and neutrons.

The dose from cosmic radiation is largely from muons, neutrons, and electrons, with a dose rate that varies in different parts of the world and based largely on the geomagnetic field, altitude, and solar cycle. The cosmic-radiation dose rate on airplanes is so high that, according to the United Nations UNSCEAR 2000 Report (see links at bottom), airline flight crew workers receive more dose on average than any other worker, including those in nuclear power plants. Airline crews receive more cosmic rays if they routinely work flight routes that take them close to the North or South pole at high altitudes, where this type of radiation is maximal.

Cosmic rays also include high-energy gamma rays, which are far beyond the energies produced by solar or human sources.

External terrestrial sources

Most materials on Earth contain some radioactive atoms, even if in small quantities. Most of the dose received from these sources is from gamma-ray emitters in building materials, or rocks and soil when outside. The major radionuclides of concern for terrestrial radiation are isotopes of potassium, uranium, and thorium. Each of these sources has been decreasing in activity since the formation of the Earth.

Internal radiation sources

All earthly materials that are the building-blocks of life contain a radioactive component. As humans, plants, and animals consume food, air, and water, an inventory of radioisotopes builds up within the organism (see banana equivalent dose). Some radionuclides, like potassium-40, emit a high-energy gamma ray that can be measured by sensitive electronic radiation measurement systems. These internal radiation sources contribute to an individual's total radiation dose from natural background radiation.

Radon

An important source of natural radiation is radon gas, which seeps continuously from bedrock but can, because of its high density, accumulate in poorly ventilated houses.

Radon-222 is a gas produced by the decay of radium-226. Both are a part of the natural uranium decay chain. Uranium is found in soil throughout the world in varying concentrations. Among non-smokers, radon is the largest cause of lung cancer and, overall, the second-leading cause.[25]

Radiation exposure

Exposure chart-XKCD
Various doses of radiation in sieverts, ranging from trivial to lethal.

There are three standard ways to limit exposure:

  1. Time: For people exposed to radiation in addition to natural background radiation, limiting or minimizing the exposure time will reduce the dose from the radiation source.
  2. Distance: Radiation intensity decreases sharply with distance, according to an inverse-square law (in an absolute vacuum).[26]
  3. Shielding: Air or skin can be sufficient to substantially attenuate alpha and beta radiation. Barriers of lead, concrete, or water are often used to give effective protection from more penetrating particles such as gamma rays and neutrons. Some radioactive materials are stored or handled underwater or by remote control in rooms constructed of thick concrete or lined with lead. There are special plastic shields that stop beta particles, and air will stop most alpha particles. The effectiveness of a material in shielding radiation is determined by its half-value thicknesses, the thickness of material that reduces the radiation by half. This value is a function of the material itself and of the type and energy of ionizing radiation. Some generally accepted thicknesses of attenuating material are 5 mm of aluminum for most beta particles, and 3 inches of lead for gamma radiation.

These can all be applied to natural and man-made sources. For man-made sources the use of Containment is a major tool in reducing dose uptake and is effectively a combination of shielding and isolation from the open environment. Radioactive materials are confined in the smallest possible space and kept out of the environment such as in a hot cell (for radiation) or glove box (for contamination). Radioactive isotopes for medical use, for example, are dispensed in closed handling facilities, usually gloveboxes, while nuclear reactors operate within closed systems with multiple barriers that keep the radioactive materials contained. Work rooms, hot cells and gloveboxes have slightly reduced air pressures to prevent escape of airborne material to the open environment.

In nuclear conflicts or civil nuclear releases civil defense measures can help reduce exposure of populations by reducing ingestion of isotopes and occupational exposure . One is the issue of potassium iodide (KI) tablets, which blocks the uptake of radioactive iodine (one of the major radioisotope products of nuclear fission) into the human thyroid gland.

Occupational exposure

Occupationally exposed individuals are controlled within the regulatory framework of the country they work in, and in accordance with any local nuclear licence constraints. These are usually based on the recommendations of the ICRP. The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends limiting artificial irradiation. For occupational exposure, the limit is 50 mSv in a single year with a maximum of 100 mSv in a consecutive five-year period.[20]

The radiation exposure of these individuals is carefully monitored with the use of dosimeters and other radiological protection instruments which will measure radioactive particulate concentrations, area gamma dose readings and radioactive contamination. A legal record of dose is kept.

Examples of activities where occupational exposure is a concern include:

Some human-made radiation sources affect the body through direct radiation, known as effective dose (radiation) while others take the form of radioactive contamination and irradiate the body from within. The latter is known as committed dose.

Public exposure

Medical procedures, such as diagnostic X-rays, nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy are by far the most significant source of human-made radiation exposure to the general public. Some of the major radionuclides used are I-131, Tc-99m, Co-60, Ir-192, and Cs-137. The public also is exposed to radiation from consumer products, such as tobacco (polonium-210), combustible fuels (gas, coal, etc.), televisions, luminous watches and dials (tritium), airport X-ray systems, smoke detectors (americium), electron tubes, and gas lantern mantles (thorium).

Of lesser magnitude, members of the public are exposed to radiation from the nuclear fuel cycle, which includes the entire sequence from processing uranium to the disposal of the spent fuel. The effects of such exposure have not been reliably measured due to the extremely low doses involved. Opponents use a cancer per dose model to assert that such activities cause several hundred cases of cancer per year, an application of the widely accepted Linear no-threshold model (LNT).

The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends limiting artificial irradiation to the public to an average of 1 mSv (0.001 Sv) of effective dose per year, not including medical and occupational exposures.[20]

In a nuclear war, gamma rays from both the initial weapon explosion and fallout would be the sources of radiation exposure.

Spaceflight

Massive particles are a concern for astronauts outside the earth's magnetic field who would receive solar particles from solar proton events (SPE) and galactic cosmic rays from cosmic sources. These high-energy charged nuclei are blocked by Earth's magnetic field but pose a major health concern for astronauts traveling to the moon and to any distant location beyond the earth orbit. Highly charged HZE ions in particular are known to be extremely damaging, although protons make up the vast majority of galactic cosmic rays. Evidence indicates past SPE radiation levels that would have been lethal for unprotected astronauts.[29]

Air travel

Air travel exposes people on aircraft to increased radiation from space as compared to sea level, including cosmic rays and from solar flare events.[30][31] Software programs such as Epcard, CARI, SIEVERT, PCAIRE are attempts to simulate exposure by aircrews and passengers.[31] An example of a measured dose (not simulated dose) is 6 μSv per hour from London Heathrow to Tokyo Narita on a high-latitude polar route.[31] However, dosages can vary, such as during periods of high solar activity.[31] The United States FAA requires airlines to provide flight crew with information about cosmic radiation, and an International Commission on Radiological Protection recommendation for the general public is no more than 1 mSv per year.[31] In addition, many airlines do not allow pregnant flightcrew members, to comply with a European Directive.[31] The FAA has a recommended limit of 1 mSv total for a pregnancy, and no more than 0.5 mSv per month.[31] Information originally based on Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine published in 2008.[31]

Radiation hazard warning signs

Hazardous levels of ionizing radiation are signified by the trefoil sign on a yellow background. These are usually posted at the boundary of a radiation controlled area or in any place where radiation levels are significantly above background due to human intervention.

The red ionizing radiation warning symbol (ISO 21482) was launched in 2007, and is intended for IAEA Category 1, 2 and 3 sources defined as dangerous sources capable of death or serious injury, including food irradiators, teletherapy machines for cancer treatment and industrial radiography units. The symbol is to be placed on the device housing the source, as a warning not to dismantle the device or to get any closer. It will not be visible under normal use, only if someone attempts to disassemble the device. The symbol will not be located on building access doors, transportation packages or containers.[32]

Radioactive

Ionizing radiation hazard symbol

Logo iso radiation

2007 ISO radioactivity danger symbol intended for IAEA Category 1, 2 and 3 sources defined as dangerous sources capable of death or serious injury.[32]

See also

References

  1. ^ Woodside, Gayle (1997). Environmental, Safety, and Health Engineering. US: John Wiley & Sons. p. 476. ISBN 978-0471109327. Archived from the original on 2015-10-19.
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  3. ^ One kg of water per cm squared is 10 meters of water Archived 2016-01-01 at the Wayback Machine
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Literature

External links

Beta particle

A beta particle, also called beta ray or beta radiation (symbol β), is a high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by the radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus during the process of beta decay. There are two forms of beta decay, β− decay and β+ decay, which produce electrons and positrons respectively.Beta particles with an energy of 0.5 MeV have a range of about one metre in air; the distance is dependent on the particle energy.

Beta particles are a type of ionizing radiation and for radiation protection purposes are regarded as being less ionising than alpha particles, but more ionising than gamma rays. The higher the ionising effect, the greater the damage to living tissue.

Deinococcus radiodurans

Deinococcus radiodurans is an extremophilic bacterium, one of the most radiation-resistant organisms known. It can survive cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid, and is therefore known as a polyextremophile and has been listed as the world's toughest bacterium in The Guinness Book Of World Records.

Electromagnetic radiation and health

At sufficiently high flux levels, various bands of electromagnetic radiation have been found to cause deleterious health effects in people. Electromagnetic radiation can be classified into two types: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation, based on the capability of a single photon with more than 10 eV energy to ionize oxygen or break chemical bonds. Extreme ultraviolet and higher frequencies, such as X-rays or gamma rays are ionizing, and these pose their own special hazards: see radiation and radiation poisoning. The last quarter of the twentieth century saw a dramatic increase in the number of devices emitting non-ionizing radiation in all segments of society, which resulted in an elevation of health concerns by researchers and clinicians, and an associated interest in government regulation for safety purposes. In the United States, this has resulted in legislation such as the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. By far the most common health hazard of radiation is sunburn, which causes over one million new skin cancers annually in United States.

Gray (unit)

The gray (symbol: Gy) is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units (SI). It is defined as the absorption of one joule of radiation energy per kilogram of matter.It is used as a unit of the radiation quantity absorbed dose which measures the energy deposited by ionizing radiation in a unit mass of matter being irradiated, and is used for measuring the delivered dose of ionising radiation in applications such as radiotherapy, food irradiation and radiation sterilization. As a measure of low levels of absorbed dose, it also forms the basis for the calculation of the radiation protection unit the sievert, which is a measure of the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body.

The gray is also used in radiation metrology as a unit of the radiation quantity kerma; defined as the sum of the initial kinetic energies of all the charged particles liberated by uncharged ionizing radiation in a sample of matter per unit mass. The gray is an important unit in ionising radiation measurement and was named after British physicist Louis Harold Gray, a pioneer in the measurement of X-ray and radium radiation and their effects on living tissue.The gray was adopted as part of the International System of Units in 1975. The corresponding cgs unit to the gray is the rad (equivalent to 0.01 Gy), which remains common largely in the United States, though "strongly discouraged" in the style guide for U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology authors.

Hazard symbol

Hazard symbols or warning symbols are recognisable symbols designed to warn about hazardous or dangerous materials, locations, or objects, including electric currents, poisons, and radioactivity. The use of hazard symbols is often regulated by law and directed by standards organisations. Hazard symbols may appear with different colors, backgrounds, borders and supplemental information in order to specify the type of hazard and the level of threat (for example, toxicity classes). Warning symbols are used in many places in lieu of or addition to written warnings as they are quickly recognized (faster than reading a written warning) and more commonly understood (the same symbol can be recognized as having the same meaning to speakers of different languages).

Hormesis

Hormesis is any process in a cell or organism that exhibits a biphasic response to exposure to increasing amounts of a substance or condition. Within the hormetic zone, there is generally a favorable biological response to low exposures to toxins and other stressors. Hormesis comes from Greek hórmēsis "rapid motion, eagerness", itself from ancient Greek hormáein "to set in motion, impel, urge on". Hormetics is the term proposed for the study and science of hormesis.

In toxicology, hormesis is a dose response phenomenon characterized by a low dose stimulation, high dose inhibition, resulting in either a J-shaped or an inverted U-shaped dose response. Such environmental factors that would seem to produce positive responses have also been termed "eustress". The hormesis model of dose response is vigorously debated. The notion that hormesis is important for chemical risks regulations is not widely accepted.The biochemical mechanisms by which hormesis works remain under laboratory research and are not well understood.

ISO 361

ISO 361 Basic ionizing radiation symbol is an international standard that specifies the shape, proportions, application and restrictions on the use of the symbol.

It may be used to signify the actual or potential presence of ionizing radiation. It is not used for sound waves and other types of electromagnetic waves. The standard does not specify the radiation levels at which it is to be used.

Irradiation

Irradiation is the process by which an object is exposed to radiation. The exposure can originate from various sources, including natural sources. Most frequently the term refers to ionizing radiation, and to a level of radiation that will serve a specific purpose, rather than radiation exposure to normal levels of background radiation. The term irradiation usually excludes the exposure to non-ionizing radiation, such as infrared, visible light, microwaves from cellular phones or electromagnetic waves emitted by radio and TV receivers and power supplies.

Mitotic catastrophe

Mitotic catastrophe refers to a mechanism of delayed mitosis-linked cell death, a sequence of events resulting from premature or inappropriate entry of cells into mitosis that can be caused by chemical or physical stresses. Mitotic catastrophe is unrelated to programmed cell death or apoptosis and is observed in cells lacking functional apoptotic pathways. It has been observed following delayed DNA damage induced by ionizing radiation. It can also be triggered by agents influencing the stability of microtubule spindles, various anticancer drugs and mitotic failure caused by defective cell cycle checkpoints. Mitotic catastrophe is the primary mechanism underlying reproductive cell death in cancer cells treated with ionizing radiation.Not all cells die immediately following abnormal mitosis caused by mitotic catastrophe, but many do. Cells that do not immediately die are likely to create aneuploid cells following subsequent attempts at cell division posing a risk of oncogenesis (i.e. potentially leading to cancer). A very small fraction of these aneuploid cells produced by mitotic catastrophe might later reduce DNA ploidy by reductive division involving meiotic cell division pathways.

Neutron radiation

Neutron radiation is a form of ionizing radiation that presents as free neutrons. Typical phenomena are nuclear fission or nuclear fusion causing the release of free neutrons, which then react with nuclei of other atoms to form new isotopes—which, in turn, may trigger further neutron radiation. Free neutrons are unstable, decaying into a proton, an electron, plus an anti-electron-neutrino with a mean lifetime of 887 seconds (about 14 minutes, 47 seconds).

Non-ionizing radiation

Non-ionizing (or non-ionising) radiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum (photon energy) to ionize atoms or molecules—that is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Instead of producing charged

ions when passing through matter, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Ionizing radiation which has a higher frequency and shorter wavelength than nonionizing radiation, has many uses but can be a health hazard; exposure to it can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer, and genetic damage. Using ionizing radiation requires elaborate radiological protection measures which in general are not required with nonionizing radiation.

The region at which radiation becomes considered as "ionizing" is not well defined, since different molecules and atoms ionize at different energies. The usual definitions have suggested that radiation with particle or photon energies less than 10 electronvolts (eV) be considered non-ionizing. Another suggested threshold is 33 electronvolts, which is the energy needed to ionize water molecules. The light from the Sun that reaches the earth is largely composed of non-ionizing radiation, since the ionizing far-ultraviolet rays have been filtered out by the gases in the atmosphere, particularly oxygen. The remaining ultraviolet radiation from the Sun causes molecular damage (for example, sunburn) by photochemical and free-radical-producing means.Different biological effects are observed for different types of non-ionizing radiation. The upper frequencies of non-ionizing radiation near these energies (much of the spectrum of UV light and some visible light) are capable of non-thermal biological damage, similar to ionizing radiation. Health debate therefore centers on the non-thermal effects of radiation of much lower frequencies (microwave, millimeter and radiowave radiation). The International Agency for Research on Cancer recently stated that there could be some risk from non-ionizing radiation to humans. But a subsequent study reported that the basis of the IARC evaluation was not consistent with observed incidence trends. This and other reports suggest that there is virtually no way that results on which the IARC based its conclusions are correct. The Bioinitiative Report 2012 makes the claim that there are significant health risk associated with low frequency non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. This report claims that statistically significant increases in cancer among those exposed to even low power levels, low frequency, non-ionizing radiation. There is considerable debate on this matter. Currently regulatory bodies around the world have not seen the need to change current safety standards.

Photobiology

Photobiology is the scientific study of the interactions of light (technically, non-ionizing radiation) and living organisms. The field includes the study of photophysics, photochemistry, photosynthesis, photomorphogenesis, visual processing, circadian rhythms, photomovement, bioluminescence, and ultraviolet radiation effects.The division between ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation is typically considered to be a photon energy greater than 10 eV, which approximately corresponds to both the first ionization energy of oxygen, and the ionization energy of hydrogen at about 14 eV.

Radiation

In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. This includes:

electromagnetic radiation, such as radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays, and gamma radiation (γ)

particle radiation, such as alpha radiation (α), beta radiation (β), and neutron radiation (particles of non-zero rest energy)

acoustic radiation, such as ultrasound, sound, and seismic waves (dependent on a physical transmission medium)

gravitational radiation, radiation that takes the form of gravitational waves, or ripples in the curvature of spacetime.Radiation is often categorized as either ionizing or non-ionizing depending on the energy of the radiated particles. Ionizing radiation carries more than 10 eV, which is enough to ionize atoms and molecules, and break chemical bonds. This is an important distinction due to the large difference in harmfulness to living organisms. A common source of ionizing radiation is radioactive materials that emit α, β, or γ radiation, consisting of helium nuclei, electrons or positrons, and photons, respectively. Other sources include X-rays from medical radiography examinations and muons, mesons, positrons, neutrons and other particles that constitute the secondary cosmic rays that are produced after primary cosmic rays interact with Earth's atmosphere.

Gamma rays, X-rays and the higher energy range of ultraviolet light constitute the ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The word "ionize" refers to the breaking of one or more electrons away from an atom, an action that requires the relatively high energies that these electromagnetic waves supply. Further down the spectrum, the non-ionizing lower energies of the lower ultraviolet spectrum cannot ionize atoms, but can disrupt the inter-atomic bonds which form molecules, thereby breaking down molecules rather than atoms; a good example of this is sunburn caused by long-wavelength solar ultraviolet. The waves of longer wavelength than UV in visible light, infrared and microwave frequencies cannot break bonds but can cause vibrations in the bonds which are sensed as heat. Radio wavelengths and below generally are not regarded as harmful to biological systems. These are not sharp delineations of the energies; there is some overlap in the effects of specific frequencies.The word radiation arises from the phenomenon of waves radiating (i.e., traveling outward in all directions) from a source. This aspect leads to a system of measurements and physical units that are applicable to all types of radiation. Because such radiation expands as it passes through space, and as its energy is conserved (in vacuum), the intensity of all types of radiation from a point source follows an inverse-square law in relation to the distance from its source. Like any ideal law, the inverse-square law approximates a measured radiation intensity to the extent that the source approximates a geometric point.

Radiation-induced cancer

Up to 10% of invasive cancers are related to radiation exposure, including both ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Additionally, the vast majority of non-invasive cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers caused by non-ionizing ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet's position on the electromagnetic spectrum is on the boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from mobile phones, electric power transmission, and other similar sources have been described as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the link remains unproven.Exposure to ionizing radiation is known to increase the future incidence of cancer, particularly leukemia. The mechanism by which this occurs is well understood, but quantitative models predicting the level of risk remain controversial. The most widely accepted model posits that the incidence of cancers due to ionizing radiation increases linearly with effective radiation dose at a rate of 5.5% per sievert. If the linear model is correct, then natural background radiation is the most hazardous source of radiation to general public health, followed by medical imaging as a close second.

Radiation burn

A radiation burn is damage to the skin or other biological tissue as an effect of radiation. The radiation types of greatest concern are thermal radiation, radio frequency energy, ultraviolet light and ionizing radiation.

The most common type of radiation burn is a sunburn caused by UV radiation. High exposure to X-rays during diagnostic medical imaging or radiotherapy can also result in radiation burns. As the ionizing radiation interacts with cells within the body—damaging them—the body responds to this damage, typically resulting in erythema—that is, redness around the damaged area. Radiation burns are often associated with radiation-induced cancer due to the ability of ionizing radiation to interact with and damage DNA, occasionally inducing a cell to become cancerous. Cavity magnetrons can be improperly used to create surface and internal burning. Depending on the photon energy, gamma radiation can cause very deep gamma burns, with 60Co internal burns are common. Beta burns tend to be shallow as beta particles are not able to penetrate deeply into the person; these burns can be similar to sunburn.

Radiation burns can also occur with high power radio transmitters at any frequency where the body absorbs radio frequency energy and converts it to heat. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers 50 watts to be the lowest power above which radio stations must evaluate emission safety. Frequencies considered especially dangerous occur where the human body can become resonant, at 35 MHz, 70 MHz, 80-100 MHz, 400 MHz, and 1 GHz. Exposure to microwaves of too high intensity can cause microwave burns.

Radiobiology

Radiobiology (also known as radiation biology) is a field of clinical and basic medical sciences that involves the study of the action of ionizing radiation on living things, especially health effects of radiation. Ionizing radiation is generally harmful and potentially lethal to living things but can have health benefits in radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and thyrotoxicosis. Its most common impact is the induction of cancer with a latent period of years or decades after exposure. High doses can cause visually dramatic radiation burns, and/or rapid fatality through acute radiation syndrome. Controlled doses are used for medical imaging and radiotherapy.

Radiolysis

Radiolysis is the dissociation of molecules by ionizing radiation. It is the cleavage of one or several chemical bonds resulting from exposure to high-energy flux. The radiation in this context is associated with ionizing radiation; radiolysis is therefore distinguished from, for example, photolysis of the Cl2 molecule into two Cl-radicals, where (ultraviolet or visible) light is used.

For example, water dissociates under alpha radiation into a hydrogen radical and a hydroxyl radical, unlike ionization of water which produces a hydrogen ion and a hydroxide ion. The chemistry of concentrated solutions under ionizing radiation is extremely complex. Radiolysis can locally modify redox conditions, and therefore the speciation and the solubility of the compounds.

Radioresistance

Radioresistance is the level of ionizing radiation that organisms are able to withstand.

Ionizing-radiation-resistant organisms (IRRO) were defined as organisms for which the dose of acute ionizing radiation (IR) required to achieve 90% reduction (D10) is greater than 1000 gray (Gy) Radioresistance is surprisingly high in many organisms, in contrast to previously held views. For example, the study of environment, animals and plants around the Chernobyl disaster area has revealed an unexpected survival of many species, despite the high radiation levels. A Brazilian study in a hill in the state of Minas Gerais which has high natural radiation levels from uranium deposits, has also shown many radioresistant insects, worms and plants. Certain extremophiles, such as the bacteria Deinococcus radiodurans and the tardigrades, can withstand large doses of ionizing radiation on the order of 5,000 Gy.

Thermoluminescent dosimeter

A thermoluminescent dosimeter, or TLD, is a type of radiation dosimeter. A TLD measures ionizing radiation exposure by measuring the intensity of visible light emitted by a crystal inside the detector when the crystal is heated. The intensity of light emitted is dependent upon the radiation exposure. Materials exhibiting thermoluminescence in response to ionizing radiation include calcium fluoride, lithium fluoride, calcium sulfate, lithium borate, calcium borate, potassium bromide, and feldspar. It was invented in 1954 by Professor Farrington Daniels of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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