Radioactive materials are hazardous. Nuclear radiation can ionise chemicals within a body, which changes the way the cells behave. It can also deposit large amounts of energy into the body, which can damage or destroy cells completely.
Some of the effects that radiation has on a human body are shown below.
|Eyes||High doses can cause cataracts.|
|Thyroid||Radioactive iodine can build up and cause cancer, particularly during growth.|
|Lungs||Breathing in radioisotopes can damage DNA.|
|Stomach||Radioactive isotopes can sit in the stomach and irradiate it for a long time.|
|Reproductive organs||High doses can cause sterility or mutations.|
|Skin||Radiation can burn skin or cause cancer.|
|Bone marrow||Radiation can cause leukaemia and other diseases of the blood.|
The risk associated with radioactive materials depends on the amount of exposure. Being exposed to highly radioactive materials or being exposed to radioactive materials for long periods of time or on a regular basis increases the dose received which, in turn increases the risk.
Given that radioactive materials are hazardous, certain precautions can be taken to reduce the risk of using radioactive sources. These include:
The risk also depends on the type of radiation to which a person has been exposed and whether that exposure is internal or external.
If the radioactive source is inside the body, after being swallowed or breathed in:
If the radioactive source is outside the body: