Radioactive Pollution: Definition, Sources & Prevention

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  • 0:03 Definition of…
  • 0:52 Sources of Radioactive…
  • 1:59 Radioactive Pollution…
  • 2:38 Radioactive Pollution…
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson defines radioactive pollution. Then you'll learn about its possible sources and what harm radioactive pollution may bring to a person, as well as the ways by which it can be prevented.

Definition of Radioactive Pollution

The term 'radiation' can refer to a wide variety of forms of energy moving around as waves or particles. It can mean x-rays, or it can mean microwaves. It can also refer to infrared light and even visible light. But when we say 'radioactive pollution,' we're being more specific. Radioactive pollution refers to the release of ionizing radiation into the environment as a result of human activity.

Ionizing radiation is the form of radiation that has a short wavelength and a high frequency. In short, it's the form of radiation that's commonly thought of as being high energy and thus harmful to living things. Ionizing radiation includes x-rays and gamma rays.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the sources of radioactive pollution, its consequences, as well as some prevention strategies.

Sources of Radioactive Pollution

What do Homer Simpson, Fukushima, and Chernobyl all have in common? A nuclear power plant. Mining for nuclear fuel, nuclear waste, nuclear power plant mishaps (sometimes caused by the hapless Homer Simpson), and nuclear weapons are all possible sources of radioactive pollution.

Improperly handled material used in nuclear medicine is also another possible radioactive pollutant. Actually, even medical x-rays are technically a source of radioactive pollution, as some x-rays scatter into the environment after the x-ray is taken. In fact, nuclear medicine and x-rays are the two prevalent types of radioactive pollution affecting most people today. You should be more worried about them than you should be about the fallout from a nuclear power plant unless, of course, you live near one. That being said, however, when such medical diagnostic and treatment techniques are used properly they are considered to be quite safe! Quick side note: some people believe that radioactive pollution also includes radon gas, which naturally comes up from underground. In that case, the major cause of radioactive pollution is radon gas, not medicine.

Radioactive Pollution Consequences

The consequences of radioactive pollution can be highly varied. It all depends on the source of the radioactive pollution, the amount of exposure, and the duration of exposure. For instance, taking an x-ray once in your life is extremely unlikely to result in any noticeable damage to your body now or in the future. On the other extreme end of things, exposure to very high levels of high-energy radiation all at once, such as from a nuclear bomb, can kill you very quickly. Exposure to higher than normal levels of radiation (but not extremely high) over a long period of time can increase your risk for all sorts of cancer types.

Radioactive Pollution Prevention

How can radioactive pollution be prevented? Well, some answers are obvious: ban nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. Of course, it's one thing to give an idealistic answer and another thing to be more realistic. It's unlikely such things will be banned everywhere despite their obvious danger. High fines for nuclear power plants that discharge radioactive pollution is one possible idea to minimize the radioactive pollution. International treaties that cut down the number of nuclear weapons are another.

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