Radioactive pollution (also radioactive contamination) is the presence of radioactive substances in the environment. These substances are known as pollutants because they can cause damage to the environment. Animals, plants and humans can all fall ill due to radioactive pollution.
Alternative names for radioactive pollution include ‘radioactive contamination’ and ‘radiological contamination’. These terms all mean the same thing: radioactive matter polluting the environment.
It is also good to know precisely what radioactive substances are. A substance is radioactive when the nuclei of its atoms start to decay. When this happens, the atom becomes unstable and releases particles which form radiation.
Radiation can be made up of several different particles, including gamma rays, alpha particles, beta particles and a type of electron known as ‘conversion electrons’.
Radiation can be undetectable when it touches a person’s skin. However, it is very hazardous. With alpha radiation, a living thing will need to be within centimeters of the radiation source to be affected by the radiation. However, other forms of radiation can travel long distances and affect plants, animals and people for miles around.
Causes of radioactive pollution.
Radioactive pollution is caused when radioactive matter is allowed to contaminate the environment. There are several main ways in which this can happen.
A key cause of radioactive pollution is breaches at nuclear power plants, which can result in leakages of radioactive matter into the environment. As nuclear energy becomes a big alternative to fossil fuels, this risk increases.
Another cause is chemical spills. Radioactive chemicals can, whether due to improper transport or to containers breaking, spill out into the atmosphere and onto the ground.
Another cause of radioactive pollution is when scientific experiments involving radiation are not conducted with the proper care. A famous case is the scientist Marie Curie, whose studies into the curative effects of radiation actually caused her to fall ill from radiation poisoning. Nevertheless, her discoveries helped us to make great strides towards treating and curing cancer.
In sum, wherever there is radioactive material, there is the danger of radioactive pollution. Radioactive material must be handled with great care. Below, the effects of radioactive pollution are explained. These effects are what will occur if radioactive material is not handled properly. After that, you will find a list of preventative measures that can be taken to keep living beings safe from radioactive pollution.
Effects of radioactive pollution.
Radiation alters and destroys cells in living organisms. Whether an organism is a plant or an animal (including a human), radiation can result in illness or death.
Radioactive pollution can cause genetic mutations in living organisms, and in their descendants. If an animal is exposed to radioactive pollution, for example, it may give birth to babies that have severe congenital defects. These mutations can also cause cancer, sometimes several years in the future, as well as conditions such as infertility and
Radiation can also have a burning effect: chemical burns are slightly different from the burns that come from excessive heat as chemicals need not be at a high temperature for an organism to feel a burning sensation when they come into contact with them. However, radioactive burns can cause blistering, reddening, pain and damage to skin tissue.
Damage to the soil and plants is another key effect of radioactive pollution. Radioactive pollution can leave soil infertile and unfit for crops for several decades. It can leave the air unsafe to breathe, too.
Preventative and control measures to take for radioactive pollution.
- Safe storage: radioactive pollution needs to be stored in specialized containers, which do not break easily and which do not allow radiation to seep out.
- Clear warnings: radioactive material can contaminate a person’s clothing or their skin. Then, as that person moves through the environment, they can contaminate other living organisms in their turn. Clear warnings about the presence of radioactive material will prevent this from happening. Of course, animals are not able to read these warnings, and this is why adequate containers are also needed.
- Alternative sources of energy: seeking alternatives to nuclear energy will reduce the number of nuclear power plants in the world and thus reduce the risks that are associated with radioactive material. Radioactive material is present in various places in a nuclear power plant. Radioactive materials are used to produce nuclear power. Moreover, the waste that is produced by nuclear power plants is also radioactive.
- Nuclear disarmament: disarming and getting rid of nuclear weapons is a very significant way of eliminating the hazards associated with radioactive material.
- Proper disposal of radioactive waste: radioactive waste needs to be disposed of in a particular way. It cannot just be buried in the soil or thrown into the garbage bin as it would contaminate the environment. Moreover, though it does gradually deactivate over time, radioactive waste stays radioactive for a long time. How long depends on what is called the ‘half life’ of the atoms that are emitting the radiation. However, most of the time, radioactive waste will take several centuries or even millennia to completely deactivate. There are several ways of disposing of radioactive waste. One way is to encase it in very thick concrete containers and bury it deep under the sea. Scientists have suggested that the motion of the deep sea waves actually helps to deactivate radioactive waste more quickly. Some radioactive waste can also be ‘recycled’ and used to generate more nuclear energy. However, in all cases, it is crucial that radioactive waste is disposed of safely and by trained professionals.
As science advanced, radiation became an increasingly important part of human society. Though atomic decay has been used for what can be argued to be positive means, such as generating nuclear energy, radioactive material can be a very hazardous pollutant.
As has been explained above, radioactive pollution can be very damaging to living organisms. It can cause illnesses that can be seen for several generations in the future. It can halt agriculture in affected regions by making the soil dangerous and sterile, and it can also cause immediate damage to the skin such as burns and sores.
So, it is very important to ensure that radioactive pollution does not occur. This can be done by taking the preventative measures described above.