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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Making Sense Out of Radioactivity

Radiation is a very complex subject in which scientists are still amazed by its complexity. The layman doesn't need to know the complex functioning of radiation, they just need to know what it is and how to protect themselves from it. In this post I will explain in the most practical terms what it is, I will leave the protection methods to a future post.

First of all, it is important to know how radiation is produced. Going down to the simple terms, radiation is produced when the nucleus (core) of an atom becomes unstable. This unstable atom will slowly decay into a more stable one. This decay is called radioactive decay. As you may have guessed, radioactive decay produces radiation.

There are three types of radiation produced during an atoms radiation decay:
  • Alpha particles.
  • Beta particles.
  • Gamma rays.
Each of these types of radiation is unique in its behavior. Alpha, beta, and gamma particles attach to the dust produced in a nuclear blast and produce fallout. This fallout dust accumulates on rooftops and on the ground. Therefore, during the event of a nuclear blast, you will probably encounter these three types of radiation.

Alpha and Beta particles:
Alpha particles are the least strong and slowest type of particle. Beta particles are a little faster and stronger. These two types of particles are not lethal when exposed to externally. Beta particles can caused skin irritation and burns if exposed for prolonged time. However, radioactive fallout particles producing alpha and beta particles are very dangerous. I have already explained their effect when inhaled in the post "Is There Such a Thing as a Radiation Pill?" As I said in this post, there damage can easily be controlled by prevention and treatment.

Gamma Rays:
Gamma Rays is the most lethal form of radioactive decay. It travels at the speed of light and extremely strong. They are especially found in high levels during the nuclear blast itself and in large accumulation of fallout particles. They are a form of electromagnetic radiation and can seriously damage any electronics exposed to them. To protect yourself from this type of radiation, heavy shielding must be used (To be discussed later). Exposure to high levels of gamma rays results in the death of the person anywhere from 2 days to 6 weeks. The danger with radiation is that effects of exposure only start appearing 30 minutes after exposure even when high levels are absorbed.

Radiation is a very complex subject and the different aspects of it will be discussed in many post to come. Keep reading in the future for new updates!

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