Radioactive Pollution – Effects and Prevention

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What is Radioactive Pollution?
Radioactive pollution, also called as nuclear pollution is a special form of physical pollution related to all major life-supporting systems – air, water and soil. Radioactivity is the phenomenon of emission of energy from radioactive isotopes (i.e. unstable isotopes such as Carbon-14, Radium-226, Uranium-235, Uranium-238, Uranium-239), etc. The emission of energy from radioactive substances in the environment is often called as ‘Radioactive Pollution.’

Sources of Radioactive Pollution
The sources of radioactive pollution can be both natural and man-made (artificial). The natural sources include – cosmic rays from outer space and emissions from radioactive materials from the earth’s crust. The man-made or artificial sources include – mining and processing of radioactive ores, use of radioactive material in nuclear power plants, use of radioactive isotopes in medical, industrial and research applications, and use of radioactive materials in nuclear weapons.

Effects of Radioactive Pollution
The effects of radioactive pollutants depend upon half-life, energy releasing capacity, rate of diffusion and rate of deposition of the contaminant. The effects may be somatic (affecting individual) or genetic (affecting future generations). Some of the effects are cancer, shortening of life span and genetic effects of mutations. The other effects of radioactive pollution include:

  • Radiations may break chemical bonds, such as DNA in cells; this affects the genetic make-up and control mechanisms.
  • Fatigue, nausea, vomiting and loss of hair (exposure at low doses of radiations, i.e. 100-250 rads).
  • The bone marrow is affected, blood cells are reduced, decreased in body immunity, blood fails to clot, and the irradiated person soon dies of infection and bleeding (exposure at low doses, i.e. 400-500 rads).
  • Higher irradiation doses (10,000 rads) cause damage to the tissues of heart, brain, etc.

How can radioactive pollution be prevented?
On one hand, the peaceful uses of radioactive materials are so wide and effective that modern civilization cannot go without them, and on the other hand, there is no cure for radiation damage. However, the only option against nuclear hazards is to check and prevent radioactive pollution by taking the following measures and precautions.

  1. safety measures should be enforced strictly;
  2. leakages from nuclear reactors, careless handling, transport and use of radioactive fuels, fission products and radioactive isotopes have to be totally stopped;
  3. there should be regular monitoring and quantitative analysis through frequent sampling in the risk areas;
  4. waste disposal must be careful, efficient and effective;
  5. appropriate steps should be taken against occupational exposure;
  6. safety measures should be strengthened against nuclear accidents; and
  7. preventive measures should be followed so that background radiation levels do not exceed the permissible limits.
Thus, we can say that radioactivity causes long range effects, affecting the future of humans and hence, the future of our civilization.

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