Radiation protection is the protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionising radiation.
Whilst safe amounts and forms of radiation can offer many benefits, it is important to remember that unsafe forms or excessive amounts of radiation can present health hazards.
Even at low exposures, unsafe amounts or forms of ionising radiation can lead to increased risks of cancer, tumours or genetic damage. At higher exposures, ionising radiation can cause microscopic damage to living tissue, and lead to burning of the skin or to radiation sickness.
Radiation protection is an essential point to consider in a variety of circumstances—from protecting workers who use radiation to perform their roles and protecting medical staff and patients who utilise radiation for remedial purposes, to protecting the general public from becoming exposed to radiation unintentionally, for example, as the result of an accident.
By managing radioactive materials and radioactive waste appropriately the dangers of radiation exposure can be greatly reduced.
Safe management of radiation can be achieved through a variety of methods, including:
- shielding radioactive materials to prevent radiation travelling away from its source. Shielding includes packaging radioactive materials in appropriate material to make it safe for workers and the public during storage and transport. Radioactive materials must also be stored in specially designed facilities with effective shielding. The nature of shielding required, including packaging, depends on the type of material or waste and the radiation it emits
- limiting the exposure to radioactive materials, or isolating the materials to eliminate the chance of exposure altogether
- disposing of radioactive waste in a responsible way so that it is contained throughout the period that the material has the potential to be harmful. Responsible disposal includes the construction of specially designed facilities and appropriate containment barriers.
An example of a safe versus a harmful amount of radiation is human exposure to sunlight. In moderate amounts, the sun can provide the body with a valuable source of vitamin D. However, too much sun exposure to the body can cause the skin to burn, and even develop skin cancer. To avoid-over exposure, it is therefore important to maintain a level of protection from the sunlight, for example, by shielding the body with appropriate clothing and sunscreen, and limiting the time spent in the sunlight.
By shielding, isolating, and disposing of radioactive materials appropriately, people and the environment can be protected from the dangers of harmful radiation exposure.
For more information about radiation and radiation safety visit the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) website.