Radiation Basics

As you hear more news from Japan about the nuclear facility disasters, you may find it useful to know some basics about radiation. Ray Burden, EDEN TN delegate provides that information below.

What is radiation? Radiation is the invisible energy emitted by certain types of unstable (or radioactive) atoms. This energy travels through the air, but cannot be seen, felt, smelled, or tasted.

Are there different types of radiation? The four types of radiation emitted by radioactive material are alpha, beta, gamma, and neutron radiation.

Is there a difference between exposure and contamination? With exposure the radiation, but not the radioactive material, reaches the person. The source of radiation (radioactive material) is not on the person and not inside the person, therefore, the person is not contaminated. Contamination may be external or internal. An externally contaminated person has radiological material physically attached to his or her skin and/or hair. Internal contamination and internal exposure occurs when unprotected people ingest, inhale, or are wounded by radioactive material.

Radioactive material can enter the body by four methods:

  • Inhalation—Gaseous or airborne particles, dust particulates, and matter with radioactive material may enter the body through the lungs.
  • Ingestion—Internal radioactive contamination may enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract by way of contaminated food, drink, and swallowing contaminated mucous from the nasal area.
  • Absorption—Radioactive material may be absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes.
  • Puncture or injection—Radioactive material can penetrate the body through cuts, wounds, and punctures in the skin.

Individuals should use the principles of time, distance, and shielding to avoid radiological materials:

  • Time—Minimize time spent near a radioactive source or radioactive contamination. The less time exposed to source of radiation, the lower the dose received.
  • Distance—Maximize the distance from a radioactive source or radioactive contamination. Keep as much distance as possible between oneself and the source of radiation. The farther one is from the source, the lower the dose received.
  • Shielding

Regards, Virginia Morgan, EDEN Chair