What is Nuclear Radiation and How Does it Affect Us?

Nuclear radiation, also known as ionizing radiation, is energy released in the form of high-speed charged particles or electromagnetic waves. This type of radiation can come from both natural and manufactured sources, and all living things are exposed to low doses of radiation from rocks, sunlight and cosmic rays. Nuclear radiation is the energy emitted by radioactive elements when they break down into more stable atoms. This energy is present in and around us all the time.

Nuclear radiation refers to the emission of particles as photons during reactions that involve the nucleus of an atom. It is also recognized as ionizing radiation, as these particles have the right energy to remove electrons from atoms and molecules and ionize them. Energy released in the form of electromagnetic waves or high-speed charged particles is known as nuclear radiation. Low doses of nuclear radiation are more likely to change cells by modifying DNA, while high doses tend to kill cells.

Nuclear radiation consists of an electromagnetic spectrum with its energy portion, X-rays and gamma rays. Neutron radiation is also produced from nuclear reactors in power plants and nuclear-powered craft and in particle accelerators, devices used to study subatomic physics. Before it can be used in a reactor, uranium must be extracted and processed to create nuclear fuel. Nuclear radiation has powerful benefits, such as nuclear energy for generating electricity and nuclear medicine for detecting and treating diseases, as well as significant dangers.

These neutrons can be absorbed by other atoms and cause nuclear reactions, such as disintegration or fission, or they can collide with other atoms, such as pool balls, and cause the emission of gamma rays. Very high doses, such as those received by workers at the scene of nuclear accidents (several thousand times higher than the level of background radiation) cause extensive damage, resulting in a series of symptoms collectively known as radiation sickness. With a half-life of 29 years, strontium-90 binds to cesium-137 as a long-lasting source of harmful radiation after a nuclear accident. In general, there are three types of nuclear radiation: α particles, β particles, and γ rays. An example of nuclear radiation is radioactive caesium particles that contaminated the water around the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. X-ray machines, some types of sterilization equipment and nuclear power plants use nuclear radiation, but so do nuclear weapons.

In Tom Clancy's book The Hunt for Red October, a Russian submarine suffers an accident in a nuclear reactor with radiation leaks that forces the crew to abandon ship. Nuclear radiation has both beneficial and dangerous applications. It can be used to generate electricity or detect and treat diseases but can also cause extensive damage if exposed to very high doses. It is important to understand how this type of energy works so that we can use it safely.