Nuclear Radiation Protection

Radiation is a form of energy that travels through space (including vacuum). Light, heat, sounds are all radiations. Nuclear radiation is the high energy electro-magnetic waves that are emitted from radioactive elements as they decay.

Elements strive for stability. They seek a balanced electronic configuration and also a balanced number of Protons and Neutrons in them. When this balance is inherently unstable or intentionally disturbed, the specimen starts to give off particles or energy or both to achieve a steady state. Different types of emissions generate different kinds of nuclear radiation as described below:

Alpha particles

These are helium nuclei without the electrons. It is basically two protons and two neutrons. The absence of electrons (negatively charged particles) makes it very positively charged. Single alpha particle has a size of usual atom like Hydrogen or Oxygen and can be easily shielded by a single sheet of paper. Their big size does not allow them to penetrate through the skin. However, the internal exposure to alpha particles is dangerous and can cause lung cancer. They can enter the blood stream through air, by direct ingestion of contaminated food or water, through wounds or infected syringes.

Beta particles

A Beta particle is a high energy electron or positron emitted during a radioactive decay. An unstable atomic nucleus with an excess of neutron may undergo β- decay and convert into proton, electron and the antimatter electron antineutrino, throwing the electron out of the atom at a high speed. An unstable atomic nucleus with excess of protons undergoes β+ decay to give off a neutron positron and electron neutrino. They are considerably smaller than alpha particles (8000 times) and have a higher penetrating power. They can penetrate the skin but not through the whole body. Though they can be shielded by a thin sheet of Aluminium, external exposure can cause burns and tissue damage, along with other symptoms of radiation sickness. Beta-radioactive specimens are kept sealed in containers.

Gamma rays

Gamma rays are the most dangerous form of nuclear radiation. They are high energy photons which do not contain any matter. Although they don’t have a positive or negative charge, they have a lot of energy. These EM waves have a very high penetrating power and can easily penetrate through most materials, dubbing them as the main hazard to people. Gamma rays are a major “by product” of almost all radioactive decays.

Detecting Nuclear Radiation

Our surroundings contain small traces of nuclear and cosmic radiation and generally all of us receive about 1–3 mSv per year of total doses of ionizing radiation (even more at some places) in form of background radiation.

Due to human activities and natural phenomena, some places tend to be more radioactive than other. Though the US radiation panel recognizes no safe level of radiation, a natural background radiation of 5–20 μSv per hour can safely be considered as normal. But you need to make sure that your surroundings are not emitting more radiation than this limit.

The main problem with nuclear radiation is that it can’t be seen or felt, it manifests itself in the form of ill-effects ranging from mild nausea to certain death. But there are many inexpensive and portable radiation detectors that measure the level of doses fairly accurately. There are no other alternatives for you to successfully detect nuclear radiation.

Protection from Nuclear Radiation

After buying yourself a dosimeter, adopt the following measures to prevent yourself from nuclear contamination:

➢ Check your food — Nowadays edibles are not produced at the backyard of your home in the purest of soils. Depending on the location where they come from, they can contain some traces of radioactivity. Usually, thorough washing can eliminate the risk if the objects were exposed to alpha radiation, but always cross check with your radiation detector.

➢ Grow Spiderwort plant around your house — This plant has dark purple flowers that act as a natural radiation detector and turn pink when they are exposed to radiation. It is a cheap, natural and effective way to determine the increased level of radiation in your area.

➢ Nuclear fallout kit — If a nuclear fallout is anticipated but has not yet arrived, keep a dedicated kit without missing a respirator and full body suit.

If you observe high level of nuclear radiation from a source, reduce the dose of exposure by

● Shielding — Sheets of heavy elements like lead can successfully block all forms of nuclear radiations.

● Distance — Keep yourself as far as possible from the radioactive source. The bigger the distance, the lesser is the damage.

● Time — Most nuclear fallouts lose strength quickly, but the radioactivity does not fall to zero. If a source is showing radioactivity, it’s better to keep away from it as long as possible.

Building a shelter- Whether you build a shelter in advance or make an expedient last minute shelter, the area should protect you from the crisis and support you for at least 2 weeks. If you don’t have a dedicated nuclear fallout shelter, these places can provide you with ample protection:

Basement- Find the corner that is farthest from the ground level

In your apartment- Find a spot in the center of home, away from windows

Make sure your fallout shelter includes:

● Shield (using heavy elements like lead)

● Ventilation

● Water and food (for at least 2 weeks)

● Sanitation and first aid

● Radiation monitoring device

Though the world doesn’t seem to be on the verge of a nuclear warfare, taking proper measures is highly recommended. Even without a full scale war, there are places with high levels of radiation.

Take precautions

Be safe.