Radiation Information

What Is Radiation?

Radioactive materials are composed of atoms that are unstable. An unstable atom gives off its excess energy until it becomes stable. The energy emitted is radiation.

The process by which an atom changes from an unstable state to a more stable state by emitting radiation is called radioactive decay or radioactivity.

Radioactive materials--if handled improperly--or radiation accidently released into the environment, can be dangerous because of the harmful effects of certain types of radiation on the body. The longer a person is exposed to radiation and the closer the person is to the radiation, the greater the risk.

People receive some natural or background radiation exposure each day from the sun, radioactive elements in the soil and rocks, household appliances (like television sets and microwave ovens), and medical and dental x-rays. This level of natural and background radiation is normal. The average American receives 360 millirems of radiation each year, 300 from natural sources and 60 from man-made activities. (A millirem is a unit of radiation exposure.)

Although radiation cannot be detected by the senses (sight, smell, etc.), it is easily detected by scientists with sophisticated instruments that can detect even the smallest levels of radiation.

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