AQA GCSE Physics

Revision Notes

4.2.11 Hazards of Contamination & Irradiation

Hazards of Contamination & Irradiation

  • Irradiation is the process of exposing a material to alpha, beta or gamma radiation
  • Contamination is where small amounts of the radioactive isotope leak onto the material
  • The only way a material can become radioactive is if that material becomes contaminated
  • Although irradiation can cause harm, contamination has the potential to cause far more harm, due to the continuous exposure to radiation that it will produce
  • Contamination is particularly dangerous if a radioactive source gets into the human body
    • The internal organs will be irradiated as the source emits radiation as it moves through the body

Comparison of Irradiation and Contamination Table

Irradiation & Contamination Comparison Table, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Protecting against Irradiation and Contamination

  • It is important to reduce the risk of exposure to radiation
  • Radiation can mutate DNA in cells and cause cancer
  • Shielding is used to absorb radiation
    • Lead lined suits are used to reduce irradiation for people working with radioactive materials
    • The lead absorbs most of the radiation that would otherwise hit the person
  • To prevent contamination an airtight suit is used by people working in an area where there may have been a radiation leak
    • This prevents radioactive atoms from getting inside the person

Safety wear, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

Lead shielding is used when a person is getting an x-ray, as well as for people who work with radiation. Contamination carries much greater risks than irradiation

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

  • Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is in Ukraine
  • In 1986 an incident at the plant caused an explosion
  • A large amount of radioactive material was released from the plant and went into the air
  • Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from the surrounding area to protect them from being contaminated
  • An exclusion zone of around 2,600 square kilometres is still in place around the power plant
    • This is because the level of radiation in the area is still very high

Chernobyl, downloadable IGCSE & GCSE Physics revision notes

The Chernobyl Disaster is probably the worst nuclear disaster in history

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