Question 13: What are harmful effects of radiations? What measures can be adopted to safeguard us from the nuclear hazard?
Unfortunately, we are continuously exposed to radiations. Our environment consists of many types of natural and man-made radiations. These radiations affect us in different ways.
Harmful effects of radiations
The excessive exposure to radiations can damage the living tissues, cells or organisms. The type of damage depends upon the type of radiations, its energy and amount. Therefore, a small amount of radiations received for a long time may also have dangerous effects.
How do radiations affect us: Most radiations ionize the material through which they pass. Damage to the living organisms is due to the ionization effect in the cells of the living organisms. The normal metabolic function of the cells may be damaged due to the interaction with the radiations. If large amount of radiations fall on the cells, they may cause death of the cells, or may produce chromosome abnormalities or genetic mutations (mutation means change or alteration).
Types of effects on living organisms: Biological effects of exposure to the radiations are generally of two types.
- Somatic effects: Somatic effects are those effects in which an individual is directly affected. Examples of such effects are skin burns, hair loss, drop in the white blood cells or cancer.
- Genetic effects: Genetic effects are long term effects and may pass on to the next generation. Ionizing radiations alter the chemistry of the genes and may cause mutations. Reaching a small amount of radiations to the reproductive organ may also affect the off-spring (next generation).
Measures to safeguard ourselves
We can avoid unnecessary exposure to any kinds of ionizing radiations if we take appropriate preventive steps.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiations.
- If exposure to the radiations is unavoidable (such as in radiotherapy), keep the time of exposure as minimum as possible.
- During the experiments, the radiation source must be kept in a thick-wall lead chamber.
- In all cases, unnecessary use of radiations must be avoided.
- Living rooms must properly ventilated to reduce the inside level of radon in rooms and buildings.
- X-rays for medical purposes must have strong reasons of diagnosis.
- Tobacco leaves collect radiation sources from atmosphere. Therefore, use of tobacco must be discouraged at all levels.
- Industrial wastage suspected to the presence of radioactive material must be properly disposed.
- International measures must be taken to protect the ozone layer from depletion.