Exposure to radiation

Since his appearance on Earth, man has been exposed to natural radiation to which he has adapted perfectly. The dose of natural radiation to which each living organism is exposed every year is about 2.4 mSv. This natural radiation comes from two sources: the Earth, deriving from radionuclides present in the Earth’s crust such as potassium-40, uranium, thorium and radon (the gas that is the largest component of natural radiation) and outer space, in the form of cosmic rays.
In addition to natural radiation, there is man-made radiation, which can be produced in different ways. The most important is radiation for medical diagnostic purposes and radiotherapy. Radioactive elements can also be released into the atmosphere as a result of atomic experiments and nuclear power plant accidents (e.g. Chernobyl).
Man can be exposed to radiation in two ways:

  • external exposure (or irradiation) that occurs when the radiation source is outside the  organism;
  • internal exposure, or internal contamination, that occurs when an individual ingests or inhales radioisotopes.

Ionising radiation can have immediate or long-term effects on man. The former can be observed a short time after exposure to radiation and depending on the magnitude of the dose can be mild, such as nausea and vomiting, or more serious, such as damage to the hematopoietic tissue. Long-term effects include cancer and leukaemia.

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