Radioactive materials are hazardous. Nuclear radiation can ionise atoms and molecules in the body, which may change the way cells behave. It can also transfer large amounts of energy into the body which can damage or destroy cells.
Effects that radiation has on a human body include:
The risk associated with radioactive materials depends on the amount and type of radiation. For example, alpha radiation is more ionising than gamma radiation but does not penetrate as far. In general, the dose received and the risk of ill-effects increases by being exposed:
Precautions are taken to reduce the risk of harm when using radioactive sources. These include:
Radioactive materials occur naturally. As a result, everyone is exposed to low levels of radiation every day. This exposure comes from a mixture of natural and man-made sources.
The actual amount of radiation that a person is exposed to depends on where they live, what job they do and many other things.
Scientists must always take into consideration the amount of background radiation when working or experimenting with radioactive sources and discount it from their results.