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Can radiation be seen

  1. Jul 1, 2008 #1
    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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  3. Jul 1, 2008 #2

    Mech_Engineer

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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.
     
  4. Jul 5, 2008 #3
    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?
     
  5. Jul 8, 2008 #4

    russ_watters

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    Where do you work? Is it even possible for you to be contaminated?
    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....
     
  6. Jul 8, 2008 #5

    russ_watters

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    Heck, radon was discovered when someone inadvertently brought it to work!
     
  7. Jul 8, 2008 #6

    Mech_Engineer

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    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/
     
  8. Oct 13, 2008 #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.
     
  9. Oct 14, 2008 #8

    vanesch

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    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:
     
  10. Oct 17, 2008 #9
    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...
     
  11. Oct 20, 2008 #10

    vanesch

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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. 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.

    Mmm, if the sunlight affects your badge, then that's probably an error of your badge. Sunlight is non-ionising radiation for most part.

    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.
     
  12. Oct 20, 2008 #11

    mgb_phys

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    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.
     
  13. Jan 11, 2009 #12
    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
     
  14. Jan 11, 2009 #13
    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
     
  15. Jan 11, 2009 #14

    russ_watters

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    Once it's on your skin, it can easily get to your nose or mouth.
     
  16. Jan 11, 2009 #15

    Xnn

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  17. Jan 11, 2009 #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!
     
  18. Jan 11, 2009 #17

    Morbius

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    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
     
  19. Jan 12, 2009 #18

    Mentallic

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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?
     
  20. Jan 12, 2009 #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.
     
  21. Jan 13, 2009 #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.
     
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