What is nuclear radiation?
See: Ionizing radiation
Electromagnetic and particle radiation
We are constantly being bombarded with electromagnetic radiation. Much of this radiation is harmless, and some is even necessary for life to exist.
Ionizing (or ionising) radiation consists of particles or electromagnetic waves that are energetic enough to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, therefore ionizing them. Ionizing radiation has enough energy to damage cells and DNA. Ionizing radiation is commonly emitted by radioisotopes used for nuclear power plants and weapons.
Radiation exposure can also come from absorbing radioactive material itself, which then can decay inside your body.
With nuclear reactors and nuclear waste being the main threat, not necessarily the shear explosive damage from a containment failure (as witnessed in Japan), but instead the venting of radioactive particles in large quantities.
With nuclear weapons, other forms of radiation are produced in such large quantities that they also become dangerous, even if they are not ionizing. Infrared and ultraviolet radiation levels produced by the explosion are so high that it can vaporize things before any blast damage occurs. This is in addition to massive amounts of irradiation from gamma rays, beta particles, neutrons, and then radioactive fallout.
What does nuclear contamination mean to the average person?
Nuclear radiation can be conceptualized as something that has the characteristics of both waves and particles, with light being the primary example. Like light, most types of radiation can be stopped by placing some kind of physical barrier between the contaminated substance and the outside world. Cement, Lead and other dense materials are suitable radiation shields under ideal situations.
Radiation Physical Effects
Medium level 100 rem, 1000 mSv
High level 400 rem, 4000 mSv
One can see the stark similarities between the incidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. Note the catastrophic failures in all the reactor’s main physical support systems. In both Chernobyl and Fukushima the main support columns and structural framework are missing or badly incinerated.
Fukushima Daiichi after reactor 4 and reactor 3 exploded from pressurized gas created from the buildup of steam
It has now been confirmed that two of Fukushimas reactors have been declared as “melt downs”
The incident at Fukushima will prove to be a challenge for scientists for years to come, as data is
collected and analyzed. The the global implications of long lasting nuclear radiation effects at the
events at fukushima will take years to seen.