Sunday, December 27, 2009


· Physics Principles and Applications, Douglas C. Giancoli Prentice Hall INC.Englewood Cliffs, NEW JERSEY 1984 p727 -743
·1990 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protec­tion, ICRP Publication 60, Ann. ICRP 21(1-3), Pergamon Press, Oxford and New York (1991).
· Conceptual Physics, Paul G.Hewitt, Harper Collins College Pubbishers 1993.
· The Safety of Nuclear Installations (Safety Fundamentals), Safety Series No. 110, IAEA, Vienna (1993). 

Appendix B : Symbols and Units

  • Scientific notation

It is often more convenient to express the numbers encountered in radiological protection in scientific, rather than decimal notation because of their magnitude. This involves the use of significant figures within desired limits and multiplication by the appropriate power of ten. Examples are shown.

Appendix A : Glossary

Appendix A.

Absorbed dose The energy imparted by ionizing radiation to a suitably small volume of matter divided by the mass of that volume. Unit gray, symbol Gy. 1 Gy = 1 joule per kilogram.

Actinides A group of 15 elements with atomic number from that of actinium (89) to lawrencium (103) inclusive. All are radioactive. Group includes uranium, plutonium, americium, and curium.

Activity The rate at which nuclear transformations occur in a radioactive material. Used as a measure of the amount of a radionuclide present. Unit becquerel, symbol Bq. 1 Bq = 1 transformation per second.

Alpha particle A particle consisting of two protons plus two neutrons (i.e. the nucleus of a helium atom) emitted by a radionuclide.

Atom Unit of matter consisting of a single nucleus surrounded by a number of elec­trons equal to the number of protons in the nucleus. The smallest portion of an element that can combine chemically with other atoms.

Atomic mass The mass of an isotope of an element expressed in atomic mass units, which are defined as one-twelfth of the mass of an atom of carbon-12. (An atomic mass of 1 is equivalent to about 1.66 x 10-27 kg.)

Atomic number The number of protons in the nucleus of an atom. Symbol Z.

Becquerel See activity.

Beta particle An electron or positron which has been emitted by an atomic nucleus or neutron in a nuclear transformation.

Brachytherapy The use of sealed radioactive sources in or on the body for treating certain types of cancer.

Chromosomes Rod-shaped bodies found in the nuclei of cells in the body . They contain the genes, or hereditary constituents . Human beings possess 23 pairs .

Collective dose The total radiation dose incurred by a population. Frequently used for collective effective dose.

Collective effective dose The quantity obtained by adding the effective doses received by all of the people in a defined population (often all of the people exposed to radiation from a particular source). Unit man sievert, symbol man Sv. Frequently abbreviated to collective dose.

Consumer products Devices such as smoke detectors, luminous dials, or ion generating tubes that contain a small amount of radioactive substances.

Cosmic rays High energy ionizing radiation from outer space. Have a complex composition at the surface of the Earth.

Decay The process of spontaneous transformation of a radionuclide or the decrease in the activity of a radioactive substance as a result of this process.

Decay product A nuclide or radionuclide produced by decay. It may be formed directly from decay of a radionuclide or as a result of a series of decays through several radionuclides. Sometimes referred to as progeny or daughters.

Decommissioning Administrative and technical actions taken to allow the removal of regulatory controls from a facility. Decommissioning typically includes dismantling the facility, but this need not be the case.

Depleted uranium Uranium containing a lesser mass percentage of uranium-235 than the 0.7 per cent found in natural uranium. A by-product from the production of enriched uranium.

Diagnostic radiology The use of radiation (e.g. X rays) or radioactive materials in medicine for identifying disease or injury in patients.

Disposal In relation to radioactive waste, emplacement in an appropriate facility without the intention of retrieval.

DNA Deoxyribonucleic acid. The compound that controls the structure and function of cells and is the material of inheritance.

Dose General term for a measure of the energy deposited by radiation in a target. Seer the more specific terms absorbed dose, equivalent dose, effective dose and collective effective dose. Frequently used for effective dose.

Effective dose A measure of dose designed to reflect the amount of radiation detriment likely to result from the dose. Obtained by multiplying the equivalent dose to each tissue or organ by an appropriate tissue weighting factor and summing the products. Unit sievert, symbol Sv.

Electrical interaction A force of repulsion acting between electric charges of like sign or a force of attraction acting between electric charges of unlike sign.

Electromagnetic radiation Radiation consisting of electrical and magnetic fields oscillating at right angles to each other. Ranges from very long wavelengths (Iow energy) such as radio waves, through intermediate wavelengths such as visible light to very short wavelengths (high energy) such as gamma rays.

Electron A stable elementary particle having a negative electric charge of 1.6 x 10-19 C and a mass of 9.1 x 10-31 kg.

Electron volt Unit of energy employed in radiation physics. Equal to the energy gained by an electron in passing through a potential difference of 1 volt. Symbol eV.

1 eV = 1.6 x 10-19 joule approximately.

Element A substance with atoms all of the same atomic number.

Enriched uranium Uranium containing a greater mass percentage of uranium-235 than the 0.7 per cent found in natural uranium.

Equivalent dose A measure of the dose to a tissue or organ designed to reflect the amount of harm caused to the tissue or organ. Obtained by multiplying the absorbed dose by a radiation weighting factor to allow for the different effectiveness of the various types of radiation in causing harm to tissue. Unit sievert, symbol Sv.

Erythema Reddening of the skin caused by dilation of blood vessels. Can occur as a result of high radiation doses.

Excitation A process by which radiation imparts energy to an atom or molecule without causing ionization. The energy may be absorbed by the nucleus or the electrons, and may be released in the form of radiation when the atom or molecule 'relaxes'.

Fallout Airborne radioactive material from the testing of nuclear weapons or nuclear accidents deposited on the Earth's surface.

Fast neutrons High energy (i.e. fast moving) neutrons, such as those produced by nuclear fission. In reactor physics, conventionally defined as neutrons with kinetic energies greater than 0.1 MeV. Corresponding velocity of about 4 x 106 mls .

Fast reactor A nuclear reactor in which fission is induced predominantly by fast neutrons.

Fission Nuclear fission. The division of a heavy nucleus into two (or, rarely, more) parts with masses of equal order of magnitude, usually accompanied by the emission of neutrons and gamma radiation.

Fission Products Nuclides produced by nuclear fission or by the Subsequent radioactive decay of the nuclides thus formed.

Free radical An uncharged atom or group of atoms having one or more unpaired electrons which were part of a chemical bond. Generally very reactive in a chemical sense.

Fusion Thermonuclear fusion . The merging of two light nuclei, resulting in the produc­tion of at least one nuclear species heavier than either initial nucleus, together with excess energy.

Gamma ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted by an atomic nucleus during radioactive decay and having wavelengths much shorter than those of visible light.

Geiger-Muller tube A glass or metal envelope containing a gas at Iow pressure and two electrodes. Ionizing radiation causes discharges, which are registered as electric pulses in a counter. The number of pulses is related to dose.

Genes The biological units of heredity. They are arranged along the length of chromosomes.

Gray See absorbed dose.

Half-life For a radionuclide, the time required for the activity to decrease, by a radioactive decay process, by half. Symbol t½ .

Ion An atom, molecule or fragment of a molecule that has acquired an electric charge through the loss or capture of electrons.

Ionization The process by which an atom or molecule acquires or loses an electric charge. The production of ions.

Ionizing radiation For the purposes of radiation protection, radiation capable of producing ion pairs in biological materiaI(s). Examples are alpha particles, gamma rays, X rays and neutrons.

Irradiation The act of being exposed to radiation. It can be intentional, for example through industrial irradiation to sterilize medical equipment, or accidental, for example through proximity to a source that emits radiation. Irradiation does not usually result in radioactive contamination, but damage can occur depending on the dose received.

Isotopes Nuclides with the same number of protons but different numbers of neutrons. Not a synonym for nuclide.

Man sievert See collective effective dose.

Mass number The number of protons plus neutrons in the nucleus of an atom. Symbol A .

Moderator A material used in thermal reactors to reduce the energy and speed of the fast neutrons produced as a result of fission to become thermal neutrons that can cause further fission.

Molecule A group of atoms bonded to each other chemically. The smallest portion of a substance that can exist by itself and retain the properties of the substance.

Mutation A chemical change in the DNA in the nucleus of a cell. Mutations in sperm or egg cells or their precursors may lead to inherited effects in children. Mutations in body cells may lead to effects in the individual.

Neutron An elementary particle having no electric charge, a mass of about 1.67 x 10-27 kg and a mean lifetime of about 1000 seconds .

Non-ionizing radiation Radiation that is not ionizing radiation. Examples are ultravio­let radiation, visible light, infrared radiation and radiofrequency radiation.

Nuclear fuel cycle All operations associated with the production of nuclear energy, including: mining and milling, processing and enrichment of uranium, manufacture of nuclear fuel; operation of nuclear reactors; reprocessing of nuclear fuel; any related research and development; and all related waste management activities (including decommissioning).

Nuclear medicine The use of radionuclides for diagnosing or treating disease in patients.

Nuclear reactor A device in which a self-sustaining nuclear fission chain reaction can be maintained and controlled. (A reactor employing fusion reactions is a thermonuclear reactor.)

Nucleus (of an atom) The positively charged central portion of an atom. Contains the protons and neutrons.

Nucleus (of a cell) The centre of a human cell that controls its functioning. Contains the important genetic material: DNA .

Nuclide A species of atom characterized by the number of protons and neutrons and the energy state of the nucleus.

Order of magnitude A factor of ten or so, or an approximate value of a quantity, given to the nearest power of ten.

Photon A quantum of electromagnetic radiation.

Positron A stable elementary particle having a positive electric charge of 1.6 x 10-19 C and a mass of 9.1 x 10-31 kg (i.e. similar to an electron, but positively charged).

Pressurized water reactor A thermal reactor ,using water as both moderator and coolant. The water is maintained under, pressure to prevent boiling.

Probability The mathematical chance that a given event will occur.

Proton A stable elementary particle having a positive electric charge of. 1.6 x 10-19 C and a mass of 1.67 x 10-27 kg.

PWR Pressurized water reactor.

Radiation Energy, in the form of waves or particles, propagating through space. Frequently used for ionizing radiation in the text, except when it is necessary to avoid confusion with non-ionizing radiation.

Radiation detriment The total harm that would eventually be experienced by an exposed person or group and their descendants as a result of their exposure to radiation.

Radioactive Exhibiting radioactivity. For legal and regulatory purposes, the meaning of radioactive is often restricted to those materials designated in national law or by a regulatory body as being subject to regulatory control because of their radioactivity.

Radioactive waste For legal and regulatory purposes, material for which no further use is foreseen that contains or is contaminated with radionuclides at concentrations or activities greater than levels set by the regulatory body.

Radioactivity The phenomenon whereby atoms undergo spontaneous random disintegration, usually accompanied by the emission of radiation.

Radiobiology The study of the effects of ionizing radiation on living things.

Radiation protection (or radiological protection) The protection of people from the effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the means for achieving this.

Radionuclide A radioactive nuclide.

Radiotherapy The use of radiation beams for treating disease, usually cancer, in patients.

Regulatory body An organization designated by the government as having legal authority for regulating nuclear, radiation, radioactive waste and transport safety.

Risk The probability of a specified health effect occurring in a person or group as a result of exposure to radiation.

Risk factor The lifetime risk or radiation detriment assumed to result from exposure to unit equivalent dose or effective dose. Unit SV-1.

Scintillation counter A device containing material that emits light flashes when exposed to ionizing radiation. The flashes are converted to electric pulses which are counted. The number of pulses is related to dose.

Sievert See effective dose and equivalent dose.

Silicon diode A device made of a silicon compound in which current flows when exposed to ionizing radiation. The current is converted to electrical pulses which are counted. The number of pulses is related to dose.

Thermal neutrons Neutrons in thermal equilibrium with the medium in which they exist, Le. they have the same average thermal energy as the surrounding atoms or molecules. The average energy of neutrons at ordinary temperatures is about 0.025 eV, corresponding to an average velocity of 2.2 x 103 m/s .

Thermal reactor A nuclear reactor in which fission is induced predominantly by thermal neutrons.

Thermoluminescent material Material which, when heated, releases visible light in proportion to the amount of radiation to which it has been exposed.

Waste management All administrative and operational activities involved in the handling, treatment, conditioning, transport, storage, and disposal of radioactive waste.

Wavelength The distance between successive crests of an electromagnetic wave passing through a given material.

X ray Penetrating electromagnetic radiation emitted by an atom when electrons in the atom lose energy, and having wavelengths much shorter than those of visible light. Cf gamma ray.

Risks from radiation sources

Risks from radiation sources

  • Introduction
  • Accidents involving radiation sources
  • Lost sources causing contamination incidents

The small but nonzero probability of a catastrophic accident makes nuclear power seem especially dangerous in the public mind. Radiation-invisible and poorly understood by most people-makes the environmental and health effects of nuclear power seem particularly insidious. And its relation to nuclear weapons makes nuclear power seem far from benign.

The important question is not whether nuclear power is safe but how it compares with other energy sources-especially its main competitor, coal. Coal mining accidents regularly kill as many people as did Chernobyl, and the latter's excess cancer fatalities are no match for the 10,000 deaths that occur each year in the United States alone as a result of air pollution from coal-burning power plants. And the continued use of fossil fuels, especially carbon-rich coal, has started us on the path of irreversible climatic change that could bring environmental disaster in the twenty-first century.

Statistically, the risks from nuclear power seem low compared with those of its fossil-fuel alternatives. And those risks are orders of magnitude lower than others many people willingly endure, like smoking, failing to wear seat belts, or persisting in high-fat diets.

Nevertheless, unanswered questions about the long­term effects of low-level radiation, about nuclear waste disposal, and most significantly about the proliferation of nuclear technology in a politically unstable world, raise doubts even for those who agree that nuclear power is statis­tically quite safe. Many take the compromise position that views nuclear fission as a bridge to a time when safer, more economical, and more sustainable power sources become available. We argued that solar photovoltaic cells may soon be one such source. Nuclear fusion, may be another.

In normal everyday use, radiation sources and technologies are used by professionals in well managed, properly regulated institutions. As described previously, radiation sources can be generating devices, such as X ray machines or particle accelerators used in medicine. The sources can also be radioactive materials sealed in a secure capsule or housing. Some sources, particularly those used in nuclear medicine and research are radioactive materials in an unsealed form. Problems can arise if radiation sources are involved in accidents, and if they become damaged or lost.

Radiation sources are widely used in industry and accidents can occur either as a result of poor management or sometimes because of bad judgement.

A common denomina­tor of the major accidents is a breach of safety or security requirements. Another common thread is that for the most part they could have been prevented through the enforcement of international safety standards that were developed and issued for that purpose.

Between 1945 and 1999 there were some 140 serious reported accidents involving excessive radiation exposure in the nuclear industry, military facilities, hospitals, research facilities, and general industry. The most frequent occur­rence (about 70 in total) is the mishandling or misappropriation of sealed sources used for radiography in industry and radiotherapy in hospitals. Some of the most serious health consequences have been caused by therapy sources being taken from discard­ed hospital equipment by people who did not appreciate the acute radiation hazard that could result. Unfortunately, there are also cases of unintentional overexposures of patients from radioactive sources in medicine, usually caused by human error or inappropriate calibration procedures.

An example of radiation injury is shown as a blistering of the right hand in the following figure.

The following table gives information on the most serious accidents that resulted in fatalities reported between 1987 and 2001.



Type of Source

Deaths caused by radiation exposure





Goiana, Brazil

Removed teletherapy Source



San Salvador, El Salvador

Industrial sterilizer



Zaragoza, Spain

Radiotherapy accelerator



Soreq, Israel

Industrial sterilizer



Nesvizh, Balarus

Industrial sterilizer




Lost cobalt-60 source







Tammiku, Estonia

Source removed from waste repository



San Jose, Costa Rica




Sarov, Russian Federation

Critical assembly



Tokaimura, Japan

Criticality accident




Lost cobalt-60 source




Lost cobalt-60 source




Radiotherapy overexposures


Table (18): Recent Fatal Radiation Accidents (1987-2001)

( In each case, overexposure is considered likely to be a direct or major cause of several deaths.)

( Radiation, People And The Environment IAEA, Vienna 2003 )

Many sources are sealed devices, with the radioactive material firmly contained or bound within a suitable capsule or housing; others consist of radioactive materials in an unsealed form. Sealed radioactive sources should only present a risk of exposure to external radiation. However, damaged or leaking sealed sources, as well as unsealed radioactive materials, may lead to radioactive contamination of the environment and the intake of radioactive substances into the human body.

Melting of disused radioactive sources accidentally sent with scrap metal for recycling is of particular concern. The table below gives an assessment of the major contamination incidents that have involved sources appearing in the recycled metal industry.

Type of source mislaid

Number of reported incidents worldwide (1983-1998)

Recycled metal industry involved



Steel (14), Copper



Steel (27), Aluminium (2), Lead






Aluminium (2), Steel



Aluminium (2), Steel



Aluminium, Copper, Gold



Aluminium, Copper, Zinc, Lead



Table (19): Major contamination incidents involving lost sources

(Radiation, People And The Environment IAEA, Vienna 2003)

Each of these incidents had a significant economic impact on the industry involved, and some also led to environmental and health consequences. In addition to those listed, there are many more cases of lost sources being discovered by radiation moni­toring equipment installed by the metal recycling industry. The installation of radiation detectors at recycling facilities is becoming common practice in many countries, and, therefore, the number of serious contamination incidents is expected to decrease.