Background Radiation

  • Background radiation is present at all times, no matter where you are. It’s part of our natural environment.
  • This type of radiation emanates from natural sources like the ground, cosmic rays from outer space, materials used in buildings, and even in food and drink.
  • Artificial sources can also add to background radiation. These might include fallout from nuclear explosions, discharges from nuclear power stations, and medical procedures such as X-rays and radiation therapies.
  • Each person’s exposure to background radiation can vary based on factors like geographical location, altitude, job, and lifestyle. For instance, if you live at a high altitude or in areas with granite-based soil, you will have slightly higher levels of exposure.
  • It’s measured in a unit called millisieverts (mSv). In the UK, the average dose per year from all sources is roughly 2.6 mSv.
  • Background radiation is largely harmless due to its low levels. However, it’s important to monitor it, especially in environments near nuclear facilities, to ensure radiation levels remain safe.
  • Radiation detectors, such as Geiger-Mueller counters, are used to measure background radiation. These devices create an electrical pulse each time they interact with radiation, which is then counted to provide a reading.
  • Understanding background radiation is vital, as it forms a comparison point for assessing radiation levels in different situations, from nuclear power plant safety to assessing the risks of radon gas in homes.
  • One specific type of background radiation is radon gas. It is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into buildings through cracks and gaps. Exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Despite its constant presence, background radiation doesn’t pose a significant health threat. The human body has evolved to repair the low-level damage it causes to cells. However, it’s still important to minimise unnecessary exposure to additional forms of radiation.

Always remember, the information about radiation that we learn from studying natural background radiation is invaluable in helping us understand, employ and control other forms of radioactivity for beneficial uses.