It’s surprising that the greatest contributor of radiation are not artificial sources but natural sources like thorium and uranium found in rocks and soil . And according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), medicine is the exposes people more frequently to radiation than nuclear power plants.
Nuclear radiation refers to the photons and particles that are emitted during reactions within the atom’s nucleus. Ionizing radiation, which has enough energy to liberate electrons from atom, damages cells and weakens or breaks up deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) which may eventually lead to cancer.
Keeping in view the harmful effects of radiation, the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC) started energy workers compensations program. If you are a nuclear power worker and you’ve gotten an illness because of your employment, you can receive compensation.
Effects of Radiation on the Human Body
Before we begin discussing the effects of radiation, let’s look at what happened with the pioneers in the radiation science.
- Henri Becquerel, who discovered radioactivity, damaged his skin by putting a vial of radium in his pocket.
- Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, who discovered X-rays in 1895, died of cancer of the intestine in 1923.
- Marie Curie, who got a Nobel prize for her discoveries in radiation science, died of a blood disease in 1934.
These examples clearly demonstrate how dangerous and life-threatening it can be if you are exposed to radiation.
According to Dr. Kathryn A. Higley of Oregon State University, the radiation produced as a result of radioactive decay can harm the body in two ways. It can kill cells directly, or it can cause mutations in DNA and the cells can turn cancerous if those mutations are not repaired.
Early Health Effects
Early health effects to exposure of radiation are caused by extensive cell damage. Examples of these are skin burn, loss of hair, and impairment of fertility.
These effects are observed when a relatively high threshold exceeds over a short period. And with the increase in dose, the severity of effect increases. If the dose is higher than 50 Gy (gray is a unit of radiation dose), the central nervous system will be damaged so badly that death will occur within a few days.
According to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), even if the dose is lower than 8 Gy, several symptoms of radiation sickness will be evident. These symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, dehydration, fatigue, headache, low blood pressure, sweating, and fever.
Delayed Health Effects
As the name suggests, delayed health effects occur a long time after exposure. The probability of these effects depends on the radiation dose received. These health effects are caused by a mutation in the DNA & RNA. Examples of delayed effects are solid tumors, leukaemia, and and genetic disorders in the offsprings.
Most of the cancers do not appear until at least 10 years. But signs of thyroid cancer, leukaemia, and bone cancer can appear after just a few years of exposure to radiation.
Radiation is present in the environment, so everyone is exposed to it. But the people working in nuclear power plants are at a greater risk of receiving a high radiation dose. Exposure to nuclear radiation can lead to acute or chronic diseases depending upon the dose. Therefore, special precautions must be taken by the nuclear workers to protect themselves.