Atomic Structure: Uses and Risks of Radiation

Atomic Structure: Uses and Risks of Radiation

Uses of Radiation

  • Medical Tracer - Certain radioactive isotopes can be used as tracers to diagnose medical conditions. An example is the use of iodine-131 to investigate issues with the thyroid gland.

  • Sterilisation - Gamma radiation is used extensively in the sterilisation of medical equipment. It helps kill bacteria and other microorganisms without the need for high temperatures.

  • Radiotherapy - In some cases, targeted doses of beta or gamma radiation are used to destroy cancerous cells in the body, a treatment known as radiotherapy.

  • Smoke detectors - Alpha radiation is used in smoke detectors. The alpha particles ionise the air, making it conductive. Smoke interrupts the ionised air, which is detected and sets off the alarm.

  • Nuclear Power - Nuclear fission in power stations uses uranium-235 as a fuel. The energy released through the fission process is transformed into electrical energy.

Risks of Radiation

  • Irradiation - Being exposed to radiation can be harmful even without eating or drinking anything contaminated. This process is known as irradiation.

  • Contamination - Radioactive materials can get onto or into an object or a person. This is dangerous as it can lead to extended exposure to radiation, frequently at close range, as well as the likelihood of ingesting or inhaling the radioactive substance.

  • Hazardous to health - High levels of radiation can cause tissue damage leading to radiation sickness, cancer, and death. Even lower levels of exposure over a long time can increase the risk of cancer.

  • Not easily removable: Once an area has been contaminated with radioactive materials, it is often difficult and expensive to clean up.

Key Points

  • Radiation has many beneficial uses, including in medicine, sterilisation, smoke detection and nuclear power.
  • However, it also comes with significant risks, including irradiation, contamination and health hazards.
  • Care must be taken to balance the benefits of using radiation with the potential harm it can cause.