What is dangerous gamma radiation and ways to protect against it
Among the variety of electromagnetic radiation, very short electromagnetic waves have found a “shelter” next to X-rays - this is gamma radiation. Having the same nature as light, it spreads in space at the same speed of 300,000 km / s.
However, due to its special properties, gamma radiation has a strong poisoning and traumatic effect on living organisms. Let's find out what gamma radiation is, how dangerous it is and how to protect against it.
What is dangerous gamma radiation
Sources of gamma radiation are cosmic rays, the interaction and decay of the nuclei of atoms of radioactive elements and other processes. Coming from distant cosmic depths or being born on Earth, this radiation has the strongest ionizing effect on humans.
In the microworld, there is a pattern; the shorter the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, the greater the energy of its quanta (portions). Therefore, it can be argued that gamma radiation is a quantum flow with very high energy.
What is dangerous gamma radiation? The mechanism of the destructive action of gamma rays is as follows.
- Due to the enormous penetrating power, “energetic” gamma-quanta easily penetrate living cells, causing their damage and poisoning.
- On the way of their movement, they leave the molecules (ions) destroyed by them. These damaged particles ionize a new batch of molecules.
- This transformation of cells causes the strongest changes in its various structures. But the changed or destroyed components of the irradiated cells decompose and begin to act like poisons.
- The final stage is the birth of new, but defective cells that cannot perform the necessary functions.
The danger of gamma radiation is exacerbated by the lack of a human mechanism capable of feeling this effect, even lethal doses.
Different human organs have individual sensitivity to its effects. Rapidly dividing cells of the hematopoietic system, digestive tract, lymph glands, genital organs, hair follicles and DNA structures are the most vulnerable to attack of this radiation. The gamma quanta infiltrating them destroy the coherence of all processes and lead to numerous mutations in the mechanism of heredity.
The particular danger of gamma radiation lies in its ability to accumulate in the body, as well as the presence of a latent period of exposure.
Where gamma radiation is applied
With uncontrolled, spontaneous effects of this radiation, the consequences can be very serious. And given that it also has an “incubation” period, retribution can catch up in many years and even through generations.
However, inquiring minds of scientists have managed to find numerous applications of gamma radiation:
- sterilization of certain products, medical instruments and equipment;
- control over the internal state of products (gamma flaw detection);
- determination of well depth in geology;
- accurate measurement of distances traveled by spacecraft;
- dosed irradiation of plants allows their mutations to be obtained, from which highly productive varieties are then selected.
As an effective therapeutic method of treatment, gamma radiation is used in medicine. This technique is called radiation therapy. It uses the feature of gamma radiation to act primarily on rapidly dividing cells.
This method is used to treat cancer, sarcoma in cases where other treatments are ineffective. Dosed and directed irradiation can suppress the vital activity of pathological tumor cells.
Where else is gamma radiation
Now we know what gamma radiation is and realize the dangers associated with it. Therefore, constantly looking for new ways to protect against it. But a century ago, the attitude toward radioactivity was more careless.
Beginning in 1902, ceramics and jewelry were covered with radioactive glaze, and colored glass was produced using such radiating additives. Therefore, carefully preserved ancient souvenirs may be a time bomb.
- Considerable danger can conceal items found or purchased on the territory of the disbanded military units in the old medical or measuring equipment.
- Many zealous owners find unfamiliar objects in scrap metal, disassemble them because of curiosity or in the hope of finding a use for them. Before you take such a thing in hand, try to find out the background radiation surrounding it.
How to protect against gamma radiation
Our whole life passes on the background of natural electromagnetic radiation. And the contribution of gamma rays to this background is quite significant. However, despite their periodic bursts, their harm to living organisms is minimal. Here earthlings are saved by huge distances from the sources of these radiations. Quite different is terrestrial sources. NPPs are particularly dangerous: their nuclear reactors, technological circuits and other equipment. The organization of protection against gamma-radiation personnel at these and other similar facilities includes the following activities.
- Protection by time, that is, by limiting the time of work. The liquidators of the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were given a few minutes to perform specific work. Delay caused an additional dose of radiation and serious consequences.
- Protection by distance (from working to the danger zone).
- The method of protection barrier (material).
For effective protection against gamma radiation, materials with a large atomic number and high density are used. These criteria satisfy:
- lead glass;
Lead has the best absorption intensity of gamma rays. A lead plate with a thickness of 1 cm, 5 cm of concrete and 10 cm of water attenuates this radiation twice, however, they are not an insurmountable obstacle. The use of lead as a protection against exposure to gamma radiation is limited by its low melting point. Therefore, in the hot zones use expensive metals:
For the manufacture of protective clothing for employees working in the zone of radiation sources or radioactive contamination using special materials. It is based on rubber, plastic or rubber with a special filler of lead and its compounds.
Anti-radiation shields can be used as a means of protection.
Protection from gamma radiation is also a very prudent attitude to the objects around us, which seem to be quite harmless: diving watches, sextants, icing sensors, etc. Their dials contain radium salts 226, which are sources of alpha and gamma radiation.
Of all the types of radiation, it is gamma radiation that has the greatest penetrating power. In this case, the most effective way to protect against external gamma radiation are special shelters, and in their absence - basements of houses. The thicker the walls, the safer the shelter. The basement of a multi-storey building is able to reduce the effect of radiation 1000 times.
Unfortunately, the danger of radiation contamination may occur quite suddenly. And people who are completely unrelated to nuclear power can receive radiation. We hope that the information obtained will help you maintain your health and protect yourself from the threat of additional radiation exposure.