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Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany

Readiness Enabler for Operational Forces  •
Staff informs, recommends radiation safety

By Risk Management staff | | January 27, 2011

Radiation can be dangerous, but it also can be a valuable tool. It reveals broken bones, cavities in teeth, all sorts of medical problems, treats and kills cancer, lights up emergency exit signs, cooks food, makes phone calls and television possible, and more.

Radiation describes a process in which energetic particles or waves travel through a medium or space. It is energy in a wave form, and the frequency of the wave determines what it can do. There are two types of radiation: non-ionizing and ionizing.

Non-ionizing radiation has enough energy to move or vibrate molecules and atoms, and consists of such common things as sound, electricity/magnetism, radio, microwave, infrared (heat), visible light and ultraviolet light. Everyone has seen examples of non-ionizing radiation, and has used some kind of it. Too much used in the wrong way is also hazardous; for example, sunburn.

At higher frequencies, 100 billion cycles per second (Hertz) and up, the waves have enough energy to change the atoms, strip off electrons or even break up the nucleus of the atom. These are X-rays, gamma rays and cosmic rays, and are pure energy known as photons. They can be used in medical diagnostics and treatment, and in many industrial procedures. High energy photons can cause cell mutations like cancer or kill cells like cancer.

There are also particulate kinds of ionizing radiation. These are typically the product of radioactive decay of unstable elements. There are two common types of particulate radiation: alpha and beta.

Alpha - a large particle, actually the nucleus of the Helium atom, is made up of two neutrons and two protons. Alpha radiation is only hazardous if it is ingested or inhaled. Alpha emitters are used to treat some forms of cancer. They are also used in smoke detectors.

Beta - is essentially an electron, but it comes from the nucleus of a decaying atom. External beta radiation can redden the skin like a sunburn, and can cause cell damage if internal to the body. Beta emitters are commonly used in medical diagnostic procedures, and genetics research.

Everyone is exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation from naturally occurring radioactive elements in the environment, and from cosmic rays from space. The amount received depends upon where people are.

The military uses many devices that use one kind or another of radiation. Radar, radios and lasers are examples of non-ionizing radiation devices, while tritium sights, illuminated dials and many instruments and detectors use ionizing radiation sources. Here, personnel receive, store, repair, and ship them. For more radiation safety information, call the Risk Management Office at (229) 639-5249.