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Radiation Exposure

Future Developments

The public is increasingly becoming aware of the dangers of radiation exposure. Less than a generation ago, many people considered a dark suntan to be a sign of health and vigor. Today, health experts are working hard to convince people that excessive exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation, and to similar ultraviolet emitted by lamps in tanning salons, increases the risk of skin cancers and premature aging of the skin. It is risky to expose skin to full sunlight, especially for a reason as trivial as the esthetics of a suntan. Education campaigns are also being mounted to make home owners aware of the risks posed by radon, which can accumulate in well-insulated homes with certain kinds of concrete-walled or rock-floored basements.

Technological improvements are resulting in much smaller exposures to radiation during medical diagnostic procedures. Efforts are also being made to reduce and better focus the radiation exposures used for therapeutic purposes (for example, to treat some kinds of cancers). Sophisticated developments, such as the three-dimensional x-ray images produced by CAT scanners, allow health care workers to obtain more information with less exposure to radiation.

Steps are also being taken to prevent exposure resulting from anthropogenic sources of radiation in the environment. In 1986, a catastrophic accident at a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in the Ukraine resulted in a huge emission of radioactive contaminants into the atmosphere, affecting much of Europe. After this disaster, networks of monitors were erected in many countries to detect future radiation leaks and warn threatened populations. The largest monitoring system is in Germany, which has installed several thousand radiation sensors. These systems will be able to detect radiation leaks coming from domestic or foreign sources shortly after nuclear accidents occur, allowing residents to seek shelter if necessary.

Most nations that do not already possess nuclear weapons, have signed a pact to not develop them, and nations that already have them have agreed not to test them above ground (which leads to particularly intense emissions of radioactivity into the atmosphere).

Resources

Books

Cooper, W.J., R.D. Curry, and K. O'Shea., eds. Environmental Applications of Ionizing Radiation. John Wiley and Sons, 1998.

Eisenbud, M., and T.F. Gesell. Environmental Radioactivity: From Natural, Industrial, and Military Sources. Academic Press, 1997.

Lillie, David W. Our Radiant World. Ames, Iowa: Iowa University Press, 1986.

Sherwood, Martin, and Christine Sutton. The Physical World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Stannard, J. Newell. Radioactivity and Health: A History. Columbus, Ohio: Batelle, 1990.


Periodicals

"Cosmic Rays: Are Air Crews At Risk?" Occupational and Environmental Medicine 59, no. 7 (2002): 428-432.

Kasner, Darcy L., and Michael E. Spieth. "The Day of Contamination." Journal of Nuclear Medicine Technology 31 (2003): 21-24.

"Radiation Risk During Long-Term Spaceflight." Advaces in Space Research 30, no. 4 (2002): 989-994.


Dean Allen Haycock

KEY TERMS

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Cosmic rays

—Ionizing radiation from the sun or other sources in outer space, consisting of atomic particles and electrons.

Electromagnetic spectrum

—The range of electro-magnetic radiation that includes radio waves, x rays, visible light, ultraviolet light, infrared radiation, gamma rays, and other forms of radiation.

Ionization

—The production of atoms or molecules that have lost or gained electrons, and therefore have gained a net electric charge.

Nuclear reactor

—A device that generates energy by controlling nuclear fission, or splitting of the atom. The heat produced is used to heat water, which drives an electrical generator. Radioactive byproducts of the fission process are used for medical, scientific, and military purposes, or are disposed as nuclear waste.

Nuclear weapon

—A bomb or other explosive that derives its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy, either from fission or fusion reactions.

Radiation

—Energy in the form of waves, or particles.

Radioactivity

—Spontaneous release of subatomic particles or gamma rays by unstable atoms as their nuclei decay.

Uranium

—A heavy element found in nature. More than 99% of natural uranium is in the isotopic form of U-238. Only the less-common U-235 readily undergoes fission.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Quantum electronics to ReasoningRadiation Exposure - The Discovery Of Radiation, Radiation Comes In Many Forms, Measuring Exposure To Radiation , Sources Of Radiation