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Radiation Pollution
Environmental Pollution

Causes of Radiation Pollution

The radiation pollution causes are various human activities, that add to natural radiation background (radiation produced everywhere in the Universe in absence of human activities).

Sources of Radiation Pollution

The sources of radiation pollution involve any process that emanates radiation in the environment. While there are many causes of radiation pollution (including research and medical procedures and wastes, nuclear power plants, TVs, computers, radio waves, cell-phones, etc.), the most common ones that can pose moderate to serious health risks include:

  • Nuclear explosions and detonations of nuclear weapons – probably the highest amounts of human-induced radiation pollution have been generated in the mid twenty century through various experimental or combat nuclear detonations (that ended the Second World War).
  • Defense weapon production – may also release radioactivity from the handled radioactive materials (usually of high health risks). However, unless accident occurs, the current standards will not allow the release of any significant amount of radiation.
  • Nuclear waste handling and disposal – may generate low to medium radiation over long period of times. The radioactivity may contaminate and propagate through air, water, and soil as well. Thus, their effects may not be easily distinguishable and are hard to predict. Additional, some nuclear waste location may not be identified. The main issue with the radiation waste is the fact that it cannot be degraded or treated chemically or biologically. Thus, the only options are to contain the waste by storing it in tightly closed containers shielded with radiation-protective materials (such as Pb) or, if containing is not possible, to dilute it. The waste may also be contained by storage in remote areas with little or no life (such as remote caves or abandoned salt mines). However, in time, the shields (natural or artificial) may be damaged. Additionally, the past waste disposal practices may not have used appropriate measures to isolate the radiation. Thus, such areas need to be carefully identified and access restrictions promptly imposed.
  • Mining of radioactive ores (such as uranium ores) – involve the crushing and processing of radioactive ores and generate radioactive by-products. Mining of other ores may also generate radioactive wastes (such as mining of phosphate ores).
  • Nuclear accidents – an already classic example of such accident is the nuclear explosion at a former Soviet nuclear power plant from Chernobyl that occurred in the mid 1986. Its effects are still seen today. Another example is the 1979 explosion at Three Mile Island nuclear-power generating plant near Harrisburg, PA. The general problems at nuclear weapons reactors are other examples of this type of sources of radiation pollution. Even accidents from handling medical nuclear materials/wastes could have radiation health effects on workers.