Does exposure to a radioactive substance make another substance radioactive?

  1. Greetings,

    I have seen science fiction movies where a Geiger counter is used to tell if someone has radiation poisoning. Does being exposed to radiation from a radioactive substance make a person radioactive?

    Thanks
     
  2. jcsd
  3. It depends. If a substance is exposed to a source of neutrons then some nuclei may experience neutron capture and hence produce unstable radioactive isotopes.

    However, it is more likely that in these science fiction movies that the person has just experienced some radioactive contamination where traces of the radioactive substance have somehow transferred to their skin, clothing or hair, or worse they have somehow injested some radioactive substance. And these traces are picked up by the geiger counter.

    This can have a serious effect on their health, and at large doses human cells will suffer considerable radiation damage but won't make their cells radioactive in themselves.
     
  4. davenn

    davenn 3,474
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2014 Award

    Agreed, from personal experience. The geiger counter doesnt tell you you have radiation poisoning per se. It just tells you if you have radioactive material on/in you. say you breathed in contaminated dust, or that same dust/radioactive mineral specks are on your outer body/clothing.
    Holding one of my uranium rock samples isnt going to make/leave me radioactive when I finally place the sample away from me. I am just going to be affected (healthwise) by the particles radiated from the sample whilst I hold it.

    Last year (2010) I had the interesting experience of a full body bone scan in hospital. It shows up rheumatoid and osteo arthritis in bone joints. they pumped a large syringe of Technetium99m into me and then did scans. for 2 days I was more radioactive than some of my rock samples. My geiger counter went crazy when brought near me. I even videoed it hahaha, by the 4th day it was almost gone from my system.


    cheers
    Dave
     
  5. D H

    Staff: Mentor

    An even more likely explanation: Its just a movie. A badly done science fiction movie.
     
  6. Drakkith

    Staff: Mentor

    For those that have seen them use some sort of meter on people or objects in the news, they are simply searching for radioactive particles released from Japan. It is these particles which make things radioactive.
     
  7. I don't think use of a Geiger counter in a movie makes it a bad movie! As long as they are using it correctly.
     
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