Meaning of Radioactive Contamination

What is Radioactive Contamination:

Radioactive contamination refers to the presence of unwanted, harmful and above natural levels of radioactive substances in the atmosphere, soil, water and/or food.

radioactive contamination

Also known as nuclear contamination, the radioactivity of substances produces naturally and artificially generated radioisotopes that, eliminated or improperly treated, cause significant damage to living beings and their effect can last for years.

In this sense, there are 2 types of radioactive contamination: natural contamination and artificial contamination.

Natural radioactive contamination, or background radiation, is that caused by naturally radioactive materials or by the action of cosmic rays.

On the other hand, artificial radioactive contamination is that produced by the action of man, responsible for the generation and inadequate disposal of toxic waste.

Causes of radioactive contamination

Chemical elements in nature naturally produce radioactivity. Radiation levels in nature are within safe daily exposure limits for living things.

In this way, if the natural origin of the radioactive contamination is not specified, it generally refers to that produced by the action of man.

Man is responsible for radioactive contamination caused by radioisotopes generated by:

  • Disposal in water of waste and liquids in contact with nuclear reactors,
  • Military exercises, trials and tests of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, and
  • The irresponsible production and disposal of waste from medical facilities, research centers, armored ammunition factories, submarines and artificial satellites.
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Consequences of radioactive contamination

Radioactive contamination causes short-term and long-term damage, depending on the type of radiation produced by the polluting substances.

Radioisotopes are produced when the nucleus of an atom disintegrates. This phenomenon occurs artificially for nuclear power generation, for example, and naturally, when their unstable nuclei balance out with more decay.

Disintegration produces 3 types of radiation that cause different consequences:

  • alpha radiation: or pass through the skin but cause physiological damage when ingested. Example: plutonium-238.
  • beta radiation: they cross millimeters of skin. Example: strontium-90.
  • gamma radiation: extremely high penetrating power, capable of causing genetic mutations. Example: cobalt-60 and caesium-137.

Radioactive contamination in the environment can damage water and soil for years, as the radiation passes through and contaminates everything around it.

This is the case, for example, of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 whose contaminated clouds were dispersed throughout the environment, currently affecting more than 10 million people, affected by diseases caused by radioactivity.

See also environmental pollution.

Prevention of radioactive contamination

The prevention of radioactive contamination is different for radiation causing polluting waste. Radioactive iodide, for example, has a short half-life but causes significant damage.

Workers who are exposed to nuclear practices must take appropriate safety measures to avoid being exposed to radiation and becoming polluting agents.

Companies and factories that generate radioactive waste must obey strict security policies regarding its proper disposal, taking into account its environmental impact.