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Alpha, Beta, Gamma, OH MY! Challenges In The Radiation World

2009 September 22

Although I have been surrounded by radiation my entire life, it wasn’t until 2003, when I began my doctorate work, that I entered the “radiation world.” Since that time I have learned so much about radiation and realize there is much more to learn. I have also come to recognize a variety of challenges that exist in the radiation world.

Despite being surrounded by naturally occurring radiation, very few people really understand it. This is just one challenge we, radiation professionals, need to address. Other challenges include understanding the unique behavior of each radioactive element (or radionuclide), the various areas of study within the field of radiation, the multiple uses of radiation in our society, the fear of radiation, and the decreasing workforce knowledgeable in the field of radiation.

Some areas of radiation work include understanding: the fate and transport of radionuclides (how they behave in water, soil, air); biological effects of radiation (effects on human health); how to prepare, prevent and respond to radiation emergencies; how to set protective regulatory limits; and how to use radiation as a benefit to society (medicine, energy…).

Each radionuclide exhibits unique biological, chemical, and physical properties. What does this mean? It means that different radionuclides behave differently in various media (soil, water, air) as well as in the human body. Radionuclides also have unique radiological properties, such as the type of radioactive decay (alpha, beta, gamma) or the length of time they will be around before being transformed into a stable (non radioactive) element. Fully understanding the world of radiation means understanding all of these things for multiple radionuclides; what a challenge!

Another challenge is addressing the fear of radiation while improving the public’s general knowledge of radiation. EPA is meeting this challenge through various radiation education products like RadTown USA.

It will be increasingly difficult to increase public knowledge without the right staff. The number of radiation professionals is not growing at the rate it should be. More students need to be encouraged to not only study STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas, but also to specialize in one of the diverse fields of radiation.

As an Engineer at EPA, I look forward to meeting all of these challenges head on, learning more about radiation and working to get the word out about radiation, educating people about the role of radiation in their daily lives, and encouraging them to join the “radiation world.”

About the Author: Dr. Angelique D. Diaz joined EPA in June of 2008 after completing her Ph.D., where she studied the behavior of plutonium in the environment. Dr. Diaz is an Environmental Engineer working at EPA’s Region 8 office in Denver, CO, where she works on a variety of radiological-related activities, including regulating radon emissions from uranium mines and mills.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Janet Palma permalink
    September 22, 2009

    Dr. Diaz,
    A noble area of expertise. I am currently reading the book Uranium by Tom Zoellner. Much of the basic information, I already knew, but to know how strongly the government insisted on and approved widescale open nuclear testing in the late 40s and 50s is quite amazing. I still remember growing up with “duck and cover” and those black and yellow signs.

    Janet

  2. Jackenson Durand permalink
    September 22, 2009

    Studying Earth Eco-systemic and Bio-diversity brings us to understand the wonderful world of Radiation, when Scientists have being discover in Hawaii in the hot water bubble magmatic, microorganisms conductor of electricity ionic building together by forming Radioactivity, that is cool for us.

  3. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 22, 2009

    It sounds like you have a great job. I am glad that EPA views pollution from uranium mines and mills as something important that needs to be addressed. The issue of spent fuel rods and out of commission nuclear generator cores is still a very important one in need of a permanent disposal solution. The facility that takes this waste for permenant disposal will have to be both well regulated and well guarded. Nuclear plants will need to close if for no other reason than the temporary solution of storing spent fuel rods on site in holding ponds is rapidly running out of space at the plants. I can also remember the 1960s and 1970s going to school in elementary and junior high school. We had duck and cover drills all the time. My junior high school was across the street from a fire station, and they tested the air raid siren a couple of times a year. I’m glad the Cold War is over. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  4. Dawn Junkins permalink
    February 2, 2012

    Greetings Dr. Diaz,
    Enjoyed your article. I couldn’t agree more with you. We need more individuals educated about radiation who can reach the masses. I learned by getting radiated unintentionally. Sometimes it felt like I was being microwaved. Radiation is a very fascinating occurrence. It is never boring and always interesting.
    Fondly, Dawn M Junkins

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