Radioactive pollution and its effects on human beings
What is Radioactive Pollution?
Radioactive pollution can be defined as the emission of high energy particles or radioactive substance into air, water or land due to human activities in the form of radioactive waste. Radioactive waste is usually the product of a nuclear process such as nuclear fission, which is extensively used in nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons and other nuclear fuel-cycles.
The radioactivity of nuclear waste diminishes with time. That means the waste needs to be isolated from the reach of living beings until it no longer pose a threat to living beings. This time period may take from days to months and to years depending upon the radioactive nature of the waste.
Radioactive pollution that is spread through the earth’s atmosphere is called “Fallout”. The atmospheric nuclear pollution become prominent during the world war 2 period when United States, Britain and Soviet Union started conducting nuclear tests in the atmosphere. The best example of fallout is the nuclear bomb attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945 by United States of America during world war 2.
As a result of nuclear bomb attack, nearly 2,25,000 people had died as a result of long-term exposure to radiation from the bomb blast within 5 years of attack due to radiation effect and cancer.
In land and water, the major source of radioactive pollution remains with the nuclear fuel cycle. The nuclear fuel cycle is used in nuclear power plants, extraction and refinement of materials from nuclear substance to be used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, where the contaminants are left behind after the useful material (Nuclear Isotope) is extracted.
Effects of Radioactive Pollution on human beings:
The effects of radioactive pollution or exposure to nuclear radiations were first reported in early 20th century when people working in uranium mines suffered from skin burn and cancer. The effects vary from organism to organism and from level of radioactivity of nuclear isotopes. The radiations destroy the cells in human body and causes cancer.
Radioactive particles forms ions when it reacts with biological molecules. These ions then form free radicals which slowly and steadily start destroying proteins, membranes, and nucleic acids. A longer exposure to radioactive radiations can damage the DNA cells that results in cancer, genetic defects for the generations to come and even death.
Sources of radioactive contaminants:
Following are the major sources where most of the radioactive waste is generated and is responsible for causing radioactive pollution:
- Production of nuclear fuel
- Nuclear power reactors
- Use of Radionuclides in industries for various applications
- Nuclear tests carried out by Defense Personnel
- Disposal of nuclear waste
- Uranium Mining
Frequency and Duration of Radioactive Pollution:
Atmospheric pollution is not a constant or regular phenomenon and therefore the frequency and duration of pollution will vary with time and conditions. The three major types of conditions exists
Continuous pollution: This type of condition exists in uranium mines, nuclear reactors, test labs etc. where the humans are under continuous exposure to radioactive contaminants and protective clothing is required to avoid radiation exposure.
Accidental Pollution: This type of condition exists during accidental exposure to radiations by virtue of equipment failure, radiation leak, faulty protective equipment etc.
Occasional Pollution: This condition exists during isolated experiment or test of nuclear substance.