Have you ever wondered…

During our schooling we are taught that ‘radioactivity is dangerous’.  However, being able to recognise what a source looks like, or how we stay safe if a source is located are not part of our education.  Some of these questions posted below may be the same as your own, others you may not have considered, but they are all questions that we have been asked over the past few years.  Clicking on the button will either take you to an external page or open a short presentation to help answer the question.  All the slides are a simple explanation to aid understanding without having to go into all the science of radiation.

We are not an RPO/RPA replacement as we are not qualified as such.

These FAQ’s and suggestions for answers are a general support to help aid understanding at a general level.  

Please confirm with your own establishment their procedures and to find the detailed answers to your questions.

What does a radioactive source look like?

In the school laboratory we may have seen a source as a cylindrical piece of metal with a holder for the teacher to place in from of a Geiger counter. In real life, radiation can be found in anything from the paint of a luminous dial to a smoke alarm! You can see a wide range of images on our Source Types as well as more explanation on the link to the right.

Source Examples

Does size matter?

Consider the news stories in 2022 about the radioactive source ‘lost’ by the Australian mining company.  It was only 6mm by 8mm…. Physical size is less important than the type of radiation emitted and the element producing the radiation.

BBC News

What is Radiation?

Radiation occurs when the atoms of certain elements ‘decay’ or break down.  Some elements are more likely to do this, such as larger more unstable elements.  Different elements will emit (give out) different types of radiation.

What is Radiation?

How can Radiation effect me?

In short, radioactive sources can alter the way that living organic tissue, such as skin and organs grow.  It can change the DNA of a cell, or change the growth rate of cells, leading to cancers.  However it is dependent on the type and energy of the radiation, amongst other factors.

Radiation Effects

How can I protect myself from Radiation?

Some radiation cannot be avoided, such as Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM), or when exposed to X-Rays or other medical treatments, but these are carefully monitored by the medical profession. There are some simple principles when dealing with radioactive sources, such as avoiding the exposure time you have to it, and maintaining a safe working distance as well as appropriate PPE.


How do we detect Radiation?

Originally detectors, such as Geiger-Muller tube, used a gas to detect radiation, however more modern techniques use a solid medium which can allow for more accurate detection of the radiation type.  Detection devices range in size from handheld devices for locating sources more accurately, for removal, to portal systems for monitoring moving traffic from people to lorries and trains.  There are also detectors that can be mounted over conveyors or in material handlers to monitor the material passing through them.

Detector Types

What should I do if my detection system alarms?

You should already have a procedure to follow provided by your company for when your system alarms. Not all alarms indicate that there is a radioactive source present but care must be taken to establish why the system has alarmed, every time the alarm sounds.

BMRA Notes

Example Procedure

How do I identify if an alarm is false or not?

Not all alarms are positive.  However, NO alarm should be ignored.  Some can be caused by faults in the system, or even simply by a change in density of the load.  Learning to recognise the reasons for different alarms helps identify when NOT to ignore an alarm.

Confirm an Alarm

How often is radioactive material found?

There is no specific answer to this, but due to the disposal of industrial equipment, there is an increased likelihood of finding a source in a load of scrap.  But also some items may be found with the general public, when crossing borders such as lightning rods.

BBC News

Ready to read more?

For those wishing to read more in-depth, RadComm Systems CEO, Steve Steranka, has published a number of White papers in Canada about Radiation, which you may find supportive.


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