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Radioactive contamination: causes, consequences and solutions

When you hear about radioactive contamination, or even radioactive things in general, it is likely that overly positive thoughts do not come to your head. If so, you are not wrong, because we are talking about the most dangerous form of pollution of all. That is why in AgroCorrn we consider it important that we are informed about it and thus be able to be prevented. If you agree, read the following article in which we bring you a little closer to this radioactive contamination: causes, consequences and solutions .

  1. What is radioactive contamination
  2. Causes of radioactive contamination
  3. Consequences of radioactive contamination
  4. Radioactive contamination solutions

What is radioactive contamination

Radioactive contamination is the contamination that occurs in the air, water, soil and other materials due to radioactive substances. These radioactive substances can be from:

  • Natural origin : radioactive elements are produced in the environment.
  • Artificial origin : they have the ability to emit radioactivity, that is, to emit protons, gamma rays and electrons from their nuclei.

Going deeper, radioactivity is a physical phenomenon that is based on the ability of the nuclei of some chemical elements to produce radiation Among its main characteristics, it stands out that they are capable of ionizing gases, producing fluorescence (the ability to reflect light), being printed on radiographic plates or passing through opaque bodies.

Regarding radiation of natural origin, or background radiation, they are those in which cosmic rays are involved, radiation from outer space of great energy, and which includes elements such as radium, uranium, thorium, radon, potassium or carbon.

On the other hand, artificial radiation refers to those that are produced artificially by human activity , such as the processes of extraction and refinement of plutonium or thorium and which we will talk about later, as they are one of the main causes of radioactive contamination.

Causes of radioactive contamination

The causes of radioactive contamination, in general, refer to artificial radiation. In the case of natural radiation, the gases and particles that are produced by the materials that emit radioactivity are transported by the wind and fall with the rain to the ground by a phenomenon called nuclear precipitation.

The main causes of radioactive contamination by artificial radiation are the use of these radioactive materials and the exposure of waste released without their proper storage, although causes such as:

  • Military tests with radioactive materials carried out in the open air in which the gases produced end up in the atmosphere, where they are retained. On the other hand, solid remains are likely to end up in bodies of water, where they alter them. Although depleted uranium is sometimes used due to its lower radioactivity, it is still a potential source of contamination.
  • Common medical practices that generate radioactive waste through nuclear medicine and radiation therapy. Some of this waste includes laboratory material, instruments that have been exposed to these radiations, wastewater …
  • Industrial activities for the production of nuclear energy, such as the manufacture of nuclear fuels or the use of potential nuclear reactors that take advantage of the thermal energy generated through the fission process. Obviously, it is a very important cause of this type of pollution since nuclear power plants emit a large amount of radioactive substances into the atmosphere, although these emissions are limited by law. On the other hand, not only are these emissions a problem, but they also cause people to be more exposed to radioisotopes that are generated naturally in these industries, such as, for example, in radon or uranium mining.
  • Dumping of nuclear waste into the environment. For example, through the cooling of nuclear reactors with water, which after being used is returned to the sea or the river with its corresponding contamination.
  • Human accidents during the production of radioisotopes, as happened in Chernobyl, with the leak of strontium-90 that affects calcium and bones, or the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami . In these accidents the radioactive elements spread through the sea, the ground and the atmosphere.

Consequences of radioactive contamination

Although the energy derived from radioactivity has its positive characteristics, the consequences derived from the contamination that it produces are highly dangerous, as radioactive contamination is possibly the most dangerous source of contamination of all .

Radioactive contamination can occur in any way, material, or everyday elements, as well as in people and, obviously, in the environment. Direct contact with these particles can cause various effects depending on the level of exposure:

  • Slight or moderate exposures to radioactive particles can cause serious health conditions such as cancer, genetic problems, or hair loss.
  • In high-level exposures, the consequence can be death.

Going a little deeper into the effects that this type of pollution can have, we find:

Effects on the organism.

These effects vary depending on the body and, as we said, the level of radiation, as well as the affected tissues and organs. In any case, it is certain that the radioactive particles progressively destroy the cells of the human body, damaging their DNA . All of this leads to:

  • Genetic defects
  • Cancer. Thyroid cancer is very common because the gland absorbs radioactive iodine particles. Also, other common cancers are bone cancer and brain tumors.
  • Bone marrow problems. This is often affected, and the person may have anemia and leukemia.
  • Infertility and malformations in the fetus, as well as problems in the offspring associated with growth and learning, and may present small brains and skulls.
  • Weakened immune system, which increases the risk for bacterial infections and other diseases.
  • Gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Mental health problems, such as emotional and psychological distress in emergencies involving radiation hazards.
  • In prolonged or high level exposures, it can cause death.

Effects on the environment

Although nature emits radioactivity naturally, the earth’s crust retains the emissions so that they do not spread and cause damage. The problem comes when these particles produced in nuclear power plants exceed the walls and reach the atmosphere, water, or soil, being highly susceptible to rapidly expanding and polluting the surroundings.

Radioactive contamination solutions

For the prevention and control of radioactive contamination, the main measure taken when dealing with radioactive waste is its isolation and storage in specialized containers , since radioactivity decreases over time. Depending on the type of waste they will be isolated for more or less time.

In addition to the previous measure, an adequate disposal of these radioactive waste must be guaranteed . One of the suggested ways is to store this waste and bury it under the sea, since it has been suggested that the movement of the waves at this depth helps to deactivate this waste more quickly.

Other measures more focused on the preventive field of this type of contamination would be:

  • Find other sources of energy to reduce the number of nuclear power plants and the associated risks they carry.
  • Keep nuclear power plants at a minimum radius of 300 kilometers from urban centers.
  • Use the minimum possible amount of radioactive material.
  • Although it may be ambitious, it is obvious that one of the crucial measures is to get rid of nuclear weapons to eliminate the risks involved.
  • Clearly warn the population and workers who are in contact with these sources of contamination about the effects they can produce. These radioactive materials can contaminate skin or clothing and spread through it and contaminate what is in its path. In addition, the employees of these nuclear plants must be informed of the serious consequences that human error can produce in this environment.
  • Educate the population near radioactive danger areas to prevent possible accidents.
  • Maintain an environmental and personal surveillance, to ensure protection.

If you want to read more articles similar to Radioactive contamination: causes, consequences and solutions , we recommend that you enter our Contamination category .

Hello, I am a blogger specialized in environmental, health and scientific dissemination issues in general. The best way to define myself as a blogger is by reading my texts, so I encourage you to do so. Above all, if you are interested in staying up to date and reflecting on these issues, both on a practical and informative level.

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