Radioactivity

Uses, Dangers and Safety

Background Radiation

Background radiation is everywhere, and is mostly harmless. The majority of background radiation is natural, coming from the ground, space, or what we consume. Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation is the name given to the radiation we see everywhere in space. Naturally Occurring Radioactive Mineral is exactly what it sounds like, and covers certain rocks and soil including granite, a source of radon gas. Only 1/8 of background radiation is artificial, owing almost entirely to medical use such as x-rays and instrument sterilisation. We do receive some radiation from testing and using nuclear weapons, but not much at all.

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Protection if inside the body

Alpha radiation is the most dangerous form of radiation if it is inside the body as it is easily absorbed by cells.

Beta and Gamma radiation are less dangerous as they are more likely to pass through the cells.

Protection if outside of the body

Alpha radiation does not travel very far - a few centimetres in air - so it can effectively be stopped by a sheet of paper.

Beta radiation travels further, in air it stops after 1-1000 cm depending on the strength, but things can be protected by aluminium foil.

Gamma radiation is much stronger, only stopped by several inch thick lead or metres of concrete.

We can not easily reduce the power of radiation, we can only try to avoid substances that emit radiation. However, Alpha radiation is not usually harmful, because it cannot get through your skin.
If people regularly work with radiation, they wear a special badge with photographic paper in it. Radiation develops photographic paper. Because different types of radiation are stopped by different substances, there are partial layers of aluminium foil and lead. When the badges are checked, it is easy to see if and what type of radiation the user was exposed to.

Alpha Radiation

Uses of alpha radiation

Apart from in smoke detectors, alpha radiation can be used to reduce or get rid of static electricity. This can be used in factories where the product or production line would be affected by static electricity.

Beta Radiation

Uses of beta radiation

Beta particles can be used to measure how thick materials are by directing the radiation at the material and measuring how much radiation is absorbed and how much gets through and is detected. This is because beta radiation has limited strength that can be measured.

They can also be used as tracing devices both in medical and industrial situations. because of the above qualities, coupled with their relative safety when inside the body.

Gamma radiation

Uses of gamma radiation

Gamma radiation is often used as Radiotherapy to try to cure cancer, to make medical instruments sterile and to trace problems in internal organs.

This is because it has huge amounts of strength and can only be stopped by many centimetres of lead.

Smoke detectors.

Smoke detectors alert people to the presence of fire. They do this by finding the fire and making a loud noise until people put out the fire. On a smaller scale, the Pygmy Smoke Gremlin living in the smoke detector smells your toast burning and shrieks, to convey that he is hungry, and when was the last time you gave your smoke detector a meal?

In all seriousness, there are layers of metal surrounding a sample of radioactive material (often Americium 241) which creates an electric current by ionizing the air around it. There is also a battery that helps create the current by charging the plates. If there is smoke, it reduces the radioactivity in the air and the current drops, which causes an alarm to ring.
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Radon gas

Radon is a harmful radioactive gas that is emitted by certain types of rocks and soils.

Houses that are built on areas with large amounts of granite, for instance, are in danger of radon gas leaking into their home and accumulating until it reaches dangerous levels. People stop this by installing ventilation systems.

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