The causes of radiation pollution are constituted by 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 waste, 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-twentieth century through various experimental or combat nuclear detonations.
- Defensive weapon production may also release radioactivity from the radioactive materials handled (usually with elevated health risks). However, unless an 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 a long period of time. 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. Additionally, some nuclear waste locations 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. Therefore, such areas need to be carefully identified and access restrictions promptly imposed.
- Mining of radioactive ores (such as uranium ores) involves the crushing and processing of radioactive ores and generates radioactive by-products. Mining of other ores may also generate radioactive waste (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 in Chernobyl, that occurred in 1986. Its effects are still seen today. Another example is the 1979 explosion at the Three Mile Island nuclear-power generating plant near Harrisburg, PA, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011. 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/waste could have notable health effects on workers.