What is Radioactive Contamination?

Meaning of Radioactive Contamination

Radiation is defined as the energy emitted by natural components in the form of particles and electromagnetic waves, and its sources are found in deposits.

The unwanted presence of radioactive material in a place or its absorption by an individual’s body is called radioactive contamination .

Therefore, radioactive materials come in two forms of radiation sources. The first is sealed sources, defined when the radioactive material is contained within packaging made of non-radioactive material.

This process is also called encapsulation . The other source of radiation is unsealed sources, whose radioactive material is not contained in an enclosure that limits its contact with the external environment.

There have been major accidents as a result of handling these materials, such as in Chernobyl in 1987, and also in Goiânia in 1987, which resulted in radioactive contamination.

Accidents with Radioactive Contamination

Chernobyl (1986): caesium 137 and iodine 131

In April 1986 an explosion occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in present-day Ukraine, causing a fire that lasted 10 days and killed 31 firefighters and plant workers who worked to contain the fire and died from contamination.

The radioactive material was released into the environment and the region, and contributed to the isolation of the area within a radius of 30 km.

Another 246 workers died between 1991 and 1998 of circulatory diseases and leukemia due to radiation exposure.

As for the rest of the affected population, United Nations reports estimate that the number of deaths from the effects of radiation exposure would reach 4,000 people.

Vegetation, soil and water have been contaminated, making the area currently isolated within a radius of 30 km. This is still considered the largest nuclear accident in the world.

Goiânia (1987): caesium 137

The accident in the state of Goiás in September 1987 was due to improper handling of a radiotherapy device, abandoned by two young paper collectors.

After dismantling it with the intention of selling it to a junkyard. After the breakup of the equipment, fragments of cesium 137 in the form of bright blue powder were dispersed into the environment, contaminating various locations.

Only four deaths are officially reported, but the Cesium 137 Victims Association reports 60 deaths and at least 1,600 people directly affected by exposure to the material.

In addition, the decontamination of the region produced 13,500 tons of atomic waste, whose damage to the environment is 180 years due to decomposition.

Fukushima (2011): caesium 137

The radioactive accident occurred in March 2011, and was initially caused by a magnitude 8.7 earthquake, which triggered a tsunami that affected the Daiichi nuclear station in Fukushima, Japan.

This station housed six nuclear reactors, being the scene of explosions in three reactors, and consequently a fire in a fuel tank .

In August 2013 it was still possible to observe a problem with contaminated water in the region, due to leaks in underground tanks.

Consequences of Radioactive Contamination

In all the cases mentioned above, the contamination of the water affected everything, from the fish to the vegetation present in rivers and seas. Favoring a series of imbalances in the environment and organisms.

In addition, contamination with radioactive material is related to changes in genes and chromosomes, leading to deformations, mutations and malformations.

Contact with radioactive material also promotes various physiological and anatomical changes. These can be burns, increased incidence of cancer, fertility problems and even psychosomatic illnesses.

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