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The purpose of this website is to provide information about radiation to educate members of the public, the teachers, the students, and others practicing applications of radiation in different areas.
Radiation is a fact of life. We are continuously bombarded by cosmic radiation from space. The environment we live in, contains many naturally occurring radioactive materials. Radioisotopes are present in the air we breathe (radon gas), in soil/rocks, in water and food items (uranium and thorium along with their progeny, K-40, etc.) those we all consume. On ingestion, part of the radioisotopes (also called radionuclides) gets incorporated in the body - in tissues, organs and body fluids, and continues to give radiation dose to the body. This is unavoidable. However, dose from the cosmic radiation varies significantly with the altitude (height from the sea level – higher the height, higher the dose), and terrestrial radiation dose depends on the geological conditions (dynamics and physical history of earth, structure of soil and the concentration of the radioactive material).
Until the invention of X-ray in 1895 by Wilhelm Roentgen, only the radiation in existence was from the natural radiation, which was discovered in 1897 by Henri Becquerel. In 1934, the first artificial radioactive material was produced. Since then, many radioactive isotopes were produced in nuclear reactors and particle accelerators. The radiation / radioisotopes have been utilized to the benefit of society in medicine, in industry, agriculture and research.
In-spite of the numerous benefits derived from these radionuclides, people in general are afraid of it and its health effects. Any exposure in large doses is harmful. We also handle other harmful substances in day-to-day life, like chemicals, electricity, heat, etc, etc. Over the past few decades, the biological effects of radiations were studied in depth by the researchers, particularly biologists. All the activities involving radiation and radioactive materials are regulated by independent regulatory bodies of the government.
Radiation is classified according to the effect it produces on the medium it is passing through. Radiation type that causes ionization of atoms – either directly or indirectly is known as ionizing radiation. Examples of directly ionizing radiations are in the form of charged particles known as alpha and beta particles and indirectly ionizing radiations are gamma rays, X-rays and neutrons. Non-ionizing radiations include ultraviolet light, infrared, (heat), microwaves and radio-waves. If exposed, ionizing radiations are more harmful biologically as compared non-ionizing radiations.
Some fears of radiation may be justified. Many, however, are due to the lack of knowledge about radiation and its effects on the biological system. Unfortunately for nuclear industry, public perceptions about the effect of radiation is build-up over the years by the mass destruction caused by the atomic bomb explosions over Japan during second world war, and the projected harmful effects of the accident in 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and tsunami-related reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan. The exposures under these situations were high as compared to low-level exposures normally received by persons engaged occupationally in nuclear industry. In-spite of the proven technical feasibility, management of radioactive waste generated in the nuclear industry continues to be an emotional subject. Correct information is not reaching the public which is now well aware of its rights to live in clean and safe environment. Communication with the members of the public seems to be inadequate.
It is strongly felt that the knowledge about innumerable benefits of applications involving radiation should be made available to the general public. This is possible if the public is educated enough to accept a small quantum of known risk of radiation exposure against the large benefit that could be derived by the application of radiation and radioisotopes. Risks should be presented in proper perceptive in comparison with the unknown risks associated with the other environmental pollutants we are routinely exposed. There is also known occupational risk in other industries.
Radiation exposures to occupational workers are well-controlled by radiological protection professionals (also called health physicists/Radiation Safety Officers), and regulated by the government agencies. Thus, safety of the personnel, members of the public and the environment is ensured by the practitioners of radiological protection and safety, and the regulatory authorities.