What is Radiation | Region 10 | US EPA

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What is Radiation

Southeast Idaho Phosphorus Slag Program

Some atoms, known as "radionuclides", are unstable--or radioactive. Radionuclides undergo a spontaneous decay process and emit one or more types of radiation until they reach a stable form. There are three main types of radiation: alpha radation; beta radiation; and gamma radiation (which is very similar to x-rays). This program is limited to gamma radiation that is emitted by phosphorus slag. Gamma radiation consists of electromagnetic waves, which can penetrate skin and travel through the human body.

Naturally occurring radioactive materials in the earth--primarily uranium, thorium, radium, radon, and potassium--and cosmic rays from outer space immerse us in fluctuating amounts of radiation at all times. Background radiation varies by location and results from a combination of cosmic radiation and naturally occurring radiation in the earth. The phosphorus slag program looks for building where radiation levels exceed the expected background level.

In addition to naturally occurring sources of radiation, people are exposed to manufactured sources of radiation as well, including medical applications, consumer goods, and the operation of the nuclear power industry. Medical doctors use man-made radiation for diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.

Of the total amount of radiation that the average person in the United States is exposed to in a year, 82% comes from natural sources and 18% from nonnatural sources. Medical diagnosis and therapy account for more than 90% of the dose from nonnatural sources.

Despite the benefits of radiation in our modern world, increases in exposure to radiation have been linked to increases in cancer rates. For that reason, the phosphorus slag program seeks to reduce exposure to radiation for residents of Southeast Idaho.

Southeast Idaho Phosphorus Slag Homepage
image - factors that affect your radiation exposure - length of exposure, distance from source, and quantity and quality of shielding material

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