Ionizing radiation is an invisible force that is constantly around us, whether it be in the form of man-made radioactive materials such as medical radiotherapy or nuclear fuels, or in harmless naturally occurring radioactive sources (NORMs) that can be present in such things as foodstuffs, in the ground beneath our feet and within our own bodies.
In the US and UK, the amount of radiation that civilians are exposed to in their daily life generally falls well within safe parameters for annual individual radiation exposure (approximately 0.62 rem, or 620 millirem annually, in the US and approximately 270 millirem per year in the UK.)
But for military personnel or emergency teams, who may be called upon to respond to a range of unpredictable and potentially hazardous radiological incidents, the possibility to be exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation presents a much more serious threat.
The potential threats of radiation exposure can be many and varied - from occupational exposure in the course of civilian radiation operations (such as radiopharmaceutical incidents, hospital irradiator incident or industrial radiography) through to accidental release, illegal disposal or large-scale radiological events.
Any type of exposure to radioactivity carries with it some degree of risk. But exactly how that exposure affects an individual will depend on a variety of factors, including the energy of the radiation emissions, the activity (or disintegrations per second) of the radioactivity, how quickly the radioactivity dissipates in, and from, the body, and where in the body the radioactivity is concentrated.
In this blog post we explore three elements of radiation safety - the units of measurements used to measure radiation exposure, the effects of radioactivity on the body, and the three key factors that will determine an individual’s exposure to ionising radiation.