Can radiation be seen

  • Thread starter roy2008
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if someone accidentally came into contact with radioactive materials-or a container of radioactive material and they became contaminated-would they be able to see the contamination on their skin? I guess what Imsaying is if I don't see a metal or powder on my hands for example, then does that mean I have not been contaminated? would even an unseen fleck of radioactive dust harm people?
 

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  • #2
Mech_Engineer
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if someone accidentally came into contact with radioactive materials-or a container of radioactive material and they became contaminated-would they be able to see the contamination on their skin? I guess what Imsaying is if I don't see a metal or powder on my hands for example, then does that mean I have not been contaminated? would even an unseen fleck of radioactive dust harm people?
Almost all inadvertant radiation contamination that results in a worker taking the radioactive material home is because they could not see it and didn't check with a detector.

In short, it is very unlikely your would be able to visibly see if you have been contaminated, the only sure-fire way to test is with a radiation detector. And yes, even very small amounts of radioactive material can be harmful, especially if ingested.
 
  • #3
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Mech Engineer said
"Almost all inadvertant radiation contamination that results in a worker taking the radioactive material home is because they could not see it and didn't check with a detector."

Do you have any documented cases of this? What sort of facilities was the worker from? I've been working in nuclear power plants for a long time and I don't think I have ever heard of anyone doing this. Seems unlikely, especially with the portal monitors now in use (the whole point of these devices is to eliminate sloppy frisking). And if it did happen, how was it eventually discovered?
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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I guess what Imsaying is if I don't see a metal or powder on my hands for example, then does that mean I have not been contaminated?
Where do you work? Is it even possible for you to be contaminated?
would even an unseen fleck of radioactive dust harm people?
Potentially yes, but where would someone get something like that?

Unless you work in a place that provides you with a radiation exposure badge, you don't have a real chance of being contaminated.

Since you realize your fear is irrational, you should know that the answer to most of your questions is pretty much the same....
 
  • #5
russ_watters
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Almost all inadvertant radiation contamination that results in a worker taking the radioactive material home is because they could not see it and didn't check with a detector.

In short, it is very unlikely your would be able to visibly see if you have been contaminated, the only sure-fire way to test is with a radiation detector. And yes, even very small amounts of radioactive material can be harmful, especially if ingested.
Heck, radon was discovered when someone inadvertently brought it to work!
 
  • #6
Mech_Engineer
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Do you have any documented cases of this? What sort of facilities was the worker from?
Such accidents do rarely happen in laboratory settings (universities, national labs, private businesses) when people get lazy or indifferent. I work for a Department of Energy contractor, and workers receive extensive training on this subject if working in radiation areas.

I'm not sure that I'm allowed to point to specific incidents, but the Nuclear Regulatory Commission keeps publically-available "Event Notification Reports" on its website which you could look through if you're curious.

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/event-status/event/
 
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  • #7
QuantumPion
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Astronauts on the moon reported seeing flashes in their eyes, even with their eye lids closed. This was caused by high-energy cosmic radiation directly activating the chemical receptors or neurons in the eye.

If you were contaminated with a hot particle (a tiny but very radioactive mote of dust, common in some areas of nuclear power plants) on your skin, the area of skin may become red and irritated.

Photography film exposed to radiation will show spots when developed (this was how radiation was originally discovered!)

Also, digital video cameras exposed to high levels of radiation will display spots that looks like static or white noise (similar effect to astronauts, the radiation causes a voltage signal on the image sensor).

Finally, you can directly see the effect of radiation if you make your own cloud chamber. A cloud chamber is a sealed box filled with super-saturated alcohol vapor if I recall correctly. When a high energy charged particle passes through, it ionizes the alcohol molecules in its path, causing them to condensate and leave a visible trail.

Oh yes, I forgot the most striking example! Cerenkov light, which causes nuclear reactors in water to glow blue, is caused by beta particles (high energy radiation) passing through water.
 
  • #8
vanesch
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Oh yes, I forgot the most striking example! Cerenkov light, which causes nuclear reactors in water to glow blue, is caused by beta particles (high energy radiation) passing through water.
The point is, if you SEE Cherenkov radiation being given off by, say, your elbow, then I think the best thing you can do is quickly subscribe to a life insurance for your family... and not go home :bugeye:
 
  • #9
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Typical radioactivity is alpha, beta and gamma radiation..there are others. A sheet of paper will stop the first, a sheet of metal the second, and some thickness of lead to stop the most potentent gamma. It would be unusual to see any radioactive material itself, but in the fallout from a nuclear bomb for example, radioactive material would be mixed in dust, the dust likely radioactive as well, and in those quantities likely visible. Such dust contamination on the skin can be mostly washed/rinsed off and clothes disposed....Inhaled radioactivity is potentially much more dangerous as there is no practical way to eliminate it from the body.

If you wear a radiation badge outdoors in sunlight, radioactivity can be recorded...An example of nuclear power plant workers being contaminated would be Chernoyble...Cooling water from a nuclear power plant might also become radioac tive...anybody know??...so if that leaked and somebody got wet, it would be visible in a sense..

The point is contamination has no visible signs...a spec of dust lands on you in a nuclear environment, you can't tell by "feel" or other senses if its dangerous or not...that depends in part of the strongth and half life of the material...

In nuclear medicene, for example, workers must be very careful, yet patients can be injected becuase the level of radiation is low and the half life just a some hours so in a week there is barely evidence.

Oh, and don't forget, visible light is radiation, and so is all electromagnetic radiation fopr that matter...
 
  • #10
vanesch
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Typical radioactivity is alpha, beta and gamma radiation..there are others. A sheet of paper will stop the first, a sheet of metal the second, and some thickness of lead to stop the most potentent gamma. It would be unusual to see any radioactive material itself, but in the fallout from a nuclear bomb for example, radioactive material would be mixed in dust, the dust likely radioactive as well, and in those quantities likely visible. Such dust contamination on the skin can be mostly washed/rinsed off and clothes disposed....Inhaled radioactivity is potentially much more dangerous as there is no practical way to eliminate it from the body.
I thought the OP wanted to know if we could see radioactive phenomena themselves, not just the stuff that is radioactive. After all, you can see a laboratory source, so you "see" the source, right ? But you don't see the radiation. By the time you see it, you're already long deadly irradiated, because the levels of radiation that are necessary to produce clearly visible luminous effects are very high.

If you wear a radiation badge outdoors in sunlight, radioactivity can be recorded...
Mmm, if the sunlight affects your badge, then that's probably an error of your badge. Sunlight is non-ionising radiation for most part.

An example of nuclear power plant workers being contaminated would be Chernoyble...Cooling water from a nuclear power plant might also become radioac tive...anybody know??...so if that leaked and somebody got wet, it would be visible in a sense..
Again, you would see the material manifestation of what might (or might not) be a radioactive source, but you wouldn't see the radioactive phenomena themselves. If nobody told you it was contaminated water, by just looking at it you wouldn't see the difference with just ordinary water.

However, radioactive phenomena are easily detected with instruments. Much more so than, say, biological contamination.
 
  • #11
mgb_phys
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I thought the OP wanted to know if we could see radioactive phenomena themselves, not just the stuff that is radioactive.
The OP has several other posts where they explain a phobia about being in contact with radioactive sources - they were asking if they can see if something is contaminated, presumably by some sort of glow.
 
  • #12
if someone accidentally came into contact with radioactive materials-or a container of radioactive material and they became contaminated-would they be able to see the contamination on their skin?
well,I gues that having so many eruptions on your skin that you allmost look skinless is a prety visible efect...not to mention other signs like hemoragia...but this is at a relative high energy radiation...for a few thousand dolars you can buy yourself a chemestry elemental set,including a bit of uranium...I gues that dosn't hurt at all,because it comes with protection
 
  • #13
And yes, even very small amounts of radioactive material can be harmful, especially if ingested.
why would you ingest something radioactive?
I don't see ANY scenario when someone ingests an uranium pill or contaminated water...exept mabey for suicids
 
  • #14
russ_watters
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why would you ingest something radioactive?
I don't see ANY scenario when someone ingests an uranium pill or contaminated water...exept mabey for suicids
Once it's on your skin, it can easily get to your nose or mouth.
 
  • #15
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In nuclear medicene, for example, workers must be very careful, yet patients can be injected becuase the level of radiation is low and the half life just a some hours so in a week there is barely evidence.
Actually, I know a guy that received a medical injection and was told by the medical authorities that it was short lived and would be gone in a few days. Very re-assuring.

We both work at a Nuclear plant, and go thru radiation detector portals every day.
No suprise he sets it off on the first day back to work.

A week later and he is still setting off the portal monitors.

A month later and he is still setting off the portal monitors.

2 months later and he is still setting off the portal monitors.

It wasn't until 3 months, that he was able to exit without setting them off!

Don't remember the isotope, but it was some type of radioactive vitamin (B3 maybe).
 
  • #16
mgb_phys
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Probably more a testament to how sensitive you can make radiation detectors.

It's like the media scare stories about finding contamination of chemical X in drinking water - that come out every time the water monitoring dept gets a new instrument!
 
  • #17
Morbius
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if someone accidentally came into contact with radioactive materials-or a container of radioactive material and they became contaminated-would they be able to see the contamination on their skin? I guess what Imsaying is if I don't see a metal or powder on my hands for example, then does that mean I have not been contaminated? would even an unseen fleck of radioactive dust harm people?
roy2008,

First - radioactivity is NOT "contagious" - just because you come in contact with radioactive material
doesn't mean that YOU become radioactive. You don't get "contaminated" just because you get "near"
some radioactive material.

Now if; as you postulate above; there is a radioactive powder that you come in contact with - and
some of that powder STICKS to you - THEN you are "contaminated" to the extent that you now have
some powder on you and that powder is radioactive - you are now radioactive.

However, I don't know ANY nuclear lab or facility that would EVER allow what you state above to
happen. For example, there are cases where radioactive material is handled in powdered form - but
NEVER just out in the open. Such an operation will take place ONLY in a "glove box":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Glovebox.jpg

The inside of the box is isolated from the rest of the room. The gloves are hanging out the front
"inside out". When a worker is going to use the glove box - they put their hands in the gloves and
turn them right side out - so their gloved hands and arms are within the box - and they can safely
handle radioactive powders like Plutonium for instance. The radiation from the Plutonium is alpha
radiation that can't penetrate the gloves. The outside of the gloves may get Plutonium powder on them;
but your hands are on the inside of the glove - so you don't pick up any of the powder.

If you are going to handle a substance that emits more penetrating radiation, like gamma; then that
would be done in a "hot cell" with "master-slave" manipulators:

http://www.centres.com/nuclear/manip/models/modghd.htm

The worker holds a the controls in their hands - and the motions of the operator's hands are mimicked
by the "claw" on the other end of the manipulator. One side of the manipulator goes inside the "hot cell"
with the radioactive material - and the operator's side is outside the "hot cell" where the operator can be
shielded from the radiation by the shielding walls of the cell as in the drawing under the word "Dimensions"
in the above link. The operator looks in through a thick glass window as seen in the center of the
shield wall.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #18
Mentallic
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Radiation can't be seen? Homer Simpson would say otherwise :tongue:

First - radioactivity is NOT "contagious" - just because you come in contact with radioactive material
doesn't mean that YOU become radioactive. You don't get "contaminated" just because you get "near"
some radioactive material.

Now if; as you postulate above; there is a radioactive powder that you come in contact with - and
some of that powder STICKS to you - THEN you are "contaminated" to the extent that you now have
some powder on you and that powder is radioactive - you are now radioactive.
In the (French?) movie 'Pu 237' a nuclear scientist working in a nuclear power plant was exposed to lethal doses of radiative material. Now even though he was washed down thoroughly, the man states in the movie that he couldn't stay near his family for long because of the radiation he was emitting. This contradicts your statement since he wouldn't have had any radiative materials on him. Is this foul play by the movie producers or is it possible?
 
  • #19
mgb_phys
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Leaving aside wether Pu237 is a likely candidate (it's a very short lived gamma emmiter isn't it?)

You could absorb some of the parent nucleid through your skin (again Pu is very insoluble so not likely) you would then become radioactive. this is the major radiation risk - especially with elements that are concentrated in your body like ceasium, calcium, carbon.

Or an intense enough radiation could induce radioactivity in elements already in your body by converting them into radioactive forms. This mostly happens with heavier elements and I doubt that you could become significantly radioactive by this mechanism without receiving a seriously lethal dose yourself.
 
  • #20
vanesch
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Accidents can happen, but they are rare. There are two kinds of accidents:
- "contamination" accidents
- irradiation accidents.

If you are *irradiated* then you can be lethally affected and die of radiation sickness in the coming days, weeks or months, but you are not a radiation hazard yourself.

For instance, the three operators which made the mistake at the Tokai Mura plant in 1999
(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokaimura_nuclear_accident for some info) made by accident a "nuclear reactor in a vessel" (that's a criticality accident), and got very very seriously irradiated (some died), but they were not a radioactive hazard themselves. During the few seconds of exposure, their cell materials were damaged by the ionizing radiation, and that was the cause of their sickness (and eventual death). But they weren't a problem to their environment, radiation-wise.

If you are *contaminated*, that means that on or in your body, you carry radioactive substances of significance. They will irradiate you, and depending on the kind of radiation, your surroundings. If it are alpha emitters (like plutonium) then the radiation will not leave your body (alpha radiation only travels a few micrometers in matter). But it will do a lot of damage locally. The most typical case of alpha contamination is the breathing of air containing powder or so of an alpha emitter, and the exposed area is the lungs.

Now, unless you have taken in A LOT of stuff, you are not an immediate radiation hazard for your environment, however, you might be considered a "leaky container" of radioactive material, and be an indirect hazard because you are essentially a "vessel from which radioactive material might escape".

If you have taken in a hard gamma emitter (cobalt or something), then you ARE a radiation hazard to your environment, because the radiation can leave your body. You are a walking source of radiation, and if you stand close to somebody, that person takes a comparable dose as you do (but only during the time he's near you, while you take it all the time of course). You are also a "leaky container".

For instance, after the SL-1 accident (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SL-1 for some info), the people exposed we so terribly contaminated, that one had to consider their bodies as "radioactive waste". But that's because they had reactor core material all over them.

The hazard is only there as long as the radioactive material is there, so if by radioactive decay, it has disappeared after a while, it is gone (but you have taken the dose nevertheless, and hence increased your chances of getting a cancer or so, because of the genetic modifications that it induced).

It all depends on the material you absorbed, the nature of the radiation it emits, and of course the quantity you absorbed.
 
  • #21
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It is possible to "become" radioactive as well by neutron radiation that activates atoms in your body, but this is a minute amount (enough neutron activation in the body to be detectable would probably kill you).
 
  • #22
Morbius
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Radiation can't be seen? Homer Simpson would say otherwise :tongue:
In the (French?) movie 'Pu 237' a nuclear scientist working in a nuclear power plant was exposed to lethal doses of radiative material. Now even though he was washed down thoroughly, the man states in the movie that he couldn't stay near his family for long because of the radiation he was emitting. This contradicts your statement since he wouldn't have had any radiative materials on him. Is this foul play by the movie producers or is it possible?
Mentallic,

Are you looking for scientific accuracy in the MOVIES????

If the contamination were due to Pu-237; as per the movie's title; Pu-237 is indeed unstable; but it
converts to Neptunium-237 via electron capture. There is a VERY SMALL possibility; with a branching
ration of 0.0042% that the Pu-237 will decay by alpha to U-233. However, NEITHER of these decay
modes would be threatening to the family

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #23
Morbius
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Or an intense enough radiation could induce radioactivity in elements already in your body by converting them into radioactive forms.
mgb_phys,

Elements already in your body could be transmuted to a radioactive species if you are exposed to
NEUTRON radiation from a reactor - i.e. you stand in the beam port of a research reactor.

But if we are talking about being exposed to some radioactive material that is emitting gammas or
betas - then NO - they will NOT make the elements in your body radioactive. [ This is what I
mean above that radioactivity is NOT "contagious"].

In order to make elements in your body radioactive; you need to alter the NUCLEUS of the atom and
transmute that to a radioactive form - by adding or knocking out a nucleon. Beta radiation, for instance;
is an electron and doesn't alter the nucleus.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #24
mgb_phys
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Agreed I did say it was unreasonable - but if the OP had read about induced radiation then claiming that radiation wasn't contagious would be wrong. As I said you would need to receive a serious dose (from a reactor or a nuclear weapon) that induced radiation would be the least of your worries.
I didn't mention neutrons or the source of radiation since it wasn't really a technical question.

The OP should not eat discarded smoke detectors or live in basements in areas with a lot of granite.
Other than that we have been trying to convince them not to worry for a year!
 
  • #25
Morbius
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Agreed I did say it was unreasonable - but if the OP had read about induced radiation then claiming that radiation wasn't contagious would be wrong.
mgb_phys,

I didn't says "radiation" was not contagious - I said "radioactivity" is not contagious.

I make that distinction. If you are exposed to "radioactivity" - that is you are exposed to a
nuclide that is not stable - then you are NOT going to become radioactive because the type
of radiations emitted by radioactive substances are not going to activate stable elements in
your body.

If you are exposed to the radiation from a reactor or a particle accelerator like a cyclotron - THEN
you can transmute stable elements into radioactive ones. The neutrons from a reactor - or high energy
alphas or protons from a cyclotron - can transmute stable elements into radioactive ones.

In general, for transmutation to occur - you need to be near a MACHINE - a reactor or cyclotron or
other particle accelerator.

If you are only near a SUBSTANCE that is radioactive - then you are NOT going to have stable
elements in your body transmuted to unstable forms.

RADIOACTIVITY [ as opposed to radiation ] is NOT "contagious"

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 

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