Atomic Structure: Background Radiation and Contamination

Atomic Structure: Background Radiation and Contamination

Background Radiation

  • Background radiation is a natural form of ionising radiation that’s always present in the environment.
  • It originates from various sources such as cosmic rays from space, naturally occurring radioactive materials in the ground including uranium and radon gases, and man-made sources like nuclear power plants.
  • We are constantly exposed to this low level of radiation, although the amount varies depending on your location and lifestyle.

Contamination and Irradiation

  • Radiation contamination refers to the presence of radioactive material on or within an object, environment or person.
  • If a radioactive material contaminates an object or person, they become radioactive and can emit harmful ionising radiation.
  • Removing or reducing contamination can be difficult and dangerous, requiring specialised equipment and procedures.

  • Irradiation refers to being exposed to radiation but without coming into direct contact with the radioactive source.
  • Materials or individuals that are irradiated are not made radioactive. This is because the source of the radiation doesn’t physically remain with the irradiated objects or individuals.
  • For example, standing outside on a sunny day subjects you to irradiation from the Sun’s radiation, but you do not become radioactive yourself.

Radiation Risks and Protection

  • Exposure to high levels of ionising radiation can be harmful, potentially causing damage to cells which can result in radiation sickness or an increased risk of cancer.
  • There are three main principles for protecting against radiation: time, distance, and shielding.
  • Time: Reduce the time spent near the radioactive source.
  • Distance: Increase the distance from the radioactive source.
  • Shielding: Use physical barriers to block or reduce the level of radiation.
  • It’s also crucial to use appropriate detection and monitoring equipment to assess the level of radiation and the effectiveness of the protection measures.

Key Takeaways

  • Background radiation is a naturally occurring ionising radiation we’re constantly exposed to, but the level varies based on location and lifestyle.
  • Understanding the difference between contamination (presence of radioactive material) and irradiation (exposure to radiation) is critical.
  • High levels of ionising radiation can be harmful; hence appropriate protection measures should be taken, including reducing exposure time, increasing distance from the source, and applying adequate shielding.