The Radiation Education and What You Should Know About the ReactorsBy jasonholzberg
Unless you have been living under a rock avoiding reality this past month, you know about the catastrophic set of events going on in Japan. The Tsunami heard around the world, which has destroyed thousands of lives, has caused all sorts of questions & concerns regarding the nuclear reactors and the radiation is generates.
First, let’s consider what a nuclear reactor is: a giant, glowing red-hot coal. Nuclear reactors, just like fossil fuel-burning power plants, make electricity by heating up water so it turns into steam and drives a turbine, which powers a generator. To use another analogy, the nuclear fission which creates this heat is a bit like the chaos you’d get if you toppled a giant pyramid of canned tomatoes. First, one can would fall, and then it would bounce off several more cans, knocking those over, and then they’d all bounce downhill, creating an ever-expanding chain reaction. And each time a can hit another can, it would produce a spark of heat.
In Japan, this chain reaction stopped at the time of the earthquake, when the reactors shut down as a safety response. But nuclear fission produces such enormous amounts of heat that it takes a long time for the reactor core to cool. Plus, the fissile material keeps giving off what’s called “decay heat” as it continues to emit radiation.
So what is this radiation?
Radiation is all around us; it is energy present in the air, Earth, space and soil. Ionizing radiation has the ability to create so much damage to the human body that it may cause cancer or even death at certain levels, such as with the nuclear disaster that occurred at Chernobyl. However, it is important to know that while radiation does exist and can cause harm, it takes an incredible amount of exposure in order to cause major bodily harm.
While 85% of the ionizing radiation we receive comes from the environment and natural sources, the other 15% stems from medical scans, such as CT scans and X-rays.
The average background radiation dose a person will receive over the course of a year is such a minute amount that it more than likely will not produce any harmful effects by itself. So don’t worry about, like, a third arm growing out of your chest, or get too pumped about possibly developing super powers. Small doses of radiation are normal, and likely won’t have any lasting side effects in the short term.
However, it is the accumulation that can occur over the span of a lifetime that can lead to unpleasant side effects, such as cancer.
Read on to discover exactly what ionizing radiation is and why you need to know more about it…