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Chapter 14 - Radiation Hazards

Ionizing radiation is a form of energy. Unlike some other types of energy, such as heat (infrared radiation) or visible light, the human body cannot sense exposure to ionizing radiation. Nonetheless, absorption of ionizing radiation energy by body tissues causes changes to the chemical makeup of living cells.

The type and thickness of material needed to make an effective barrier or shield around a source of ionizing radiation varies a great deal depending on the type of ionizing radiation. Beta radiation is a stream of tiny charged particles that can be stopped by a thin layer of plastic, glass, wood, metal and most other common materials. X-rays and Gamma rays are very similar to sunlight in that they are not particles, just electromagnetic waves. While sunlight will pass through only a few materials, such as window glass, X-rays and Gamma rays penetrate easily through most materials. However, even they can be blocked by a sufficient thickness of lead.

Ionizing radiation is also similar to other forms of radiation in that the intensity of the radiation exposure decreases very quickly as you move away from the radiation source. Just as moving a short distance closer to or farther from a fireplace causes a large change in how warm you feel; keeping just a few feet away from where someone is handling radioactive material will almost eliminate your exposure.

Other Resources:

  • Cornell University Radiation Safety Manual
  • Disposal of Radioactive Materials
  • Cornell Radiation Safety Program