Radioactive Pollution – Causes, Effects and Solutions
Radioactive pollution is one of the most significant hazards for the environment. The release and deposition of nuclear substances into the air, water, or soil results in substantial risk for the survival of living organisms. Various human-made causes are nuclear explosions, testing, and manufacturing of nuclear weapons, disposal of radiation waste, etc.
For checking the effectiveness and capability of a weapon, researches conduct various nuclear tests, but it leads to the release of a tremendous amount of radiation in the atmosphere. Radionuclides are measured as one of the biggest radioactive threats to living organisms. Radiation pollution affects the present generation, but its adverse effects are also observed in the coming generations.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Causes Radioactive Pollution?
- 2 What Are The Effects of Radioactive Pollution?
- 3 Preventive Measures to Control Radioactive Pollution
What Causes Radioactive Pollution?
The sources that flow radiation in the environment causes radioactive pollution. Radiation through various activities of nuclear plants is major threats created by humans. Some of the primary causes of radioactive pollution are:
Everything has pros & cons, and thus technology also has its pros & cons. Nuclear power plants are witness to our advanced technologies and inventions. However, there is always a risk factor involved with these technologies.
Nuclear plants run many experiments daily. Sometimes, these experiments lead to massive explosions or detonation of a nuclear weapon. These kinds of accidents may release radiation in the environment, which is quite hazardous for us like air pollution or water pollution.
Production of defensive weapon
Production of weapons or ammunition’s may also cause radioactive pollution. There may be chances of radioactivity release while performing the overall procedure for the production of these weapons. However, the current standards do not allow the release of radiation unless an accident occurs.
Nuclear waste is extremely harmful to the organisms of the planet. It may cause severe implications over a period of time.
Radioactivity spread through the air, water, or soil as a medium contaminating the environment.
In general, there are three types of nuclear waste- high levels, low levels, and transuranic. High-level waste mainly caused by the disposal of nuclear weapons. This type of nuclear waste releases lower-level radiations for a long time, but at the initial stage, the emission is quite intense.
On the other hand, low-level wastes are high volume nuclear wastes that continue radiation emission for a more extended period. For example- cleaning material from radioactive plants, radioisotopes from hospitals & labs, etc. Whereas, transuranic radioactive waste mainly generates from military installations, during plutonium processing, etc.
Unfortunately, it is tough to find some nuclear waste locations, and the effects of radiation pollution are quite tough to recognize. The most disappointing part is that we can’t degrade or treat radioactive waste chemically or biologically. If not appropriately dumped, radioactive waste may lead to various health implications on serious notes.
Mining activities for extracting radioactive ores may also cause radioactive pollution, such as mining of uranium ore. It involves many processes like crushing and processing of radioactive ores that generate harmful radioactive by-products.
Sometimes mining of ores can create radioactive waste. For example – mining of phosphate ore generates radioactive waste, which is a significant threat to the environment.
Testing of nuclear weapons
The testing of the nuclear weapon came into significance right after the emergence of the atomic age. Before this, the nuclear weapons were used to explode under Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, or underwater almost hundreds of meters in depth.
Although the isotopes of iodine (129 & 131), cesium, and stocks of plutonium decay much faster that are dumped underground, strontium-90 is one of the most significant issues for the environment and involved with many risk factors for our health.
In 2000, the UN General Assembly reported stating that nuclear testing is the primary cause of our exposure to radioactive pollution caused by humans only.
Accidental incidents at nuclear energy generation plants
We can explain this point with a couple of ideal examples of the accidental incidents responsible for radioactive pollution. “The nuclear explosion occurred in 1986 at a former Soviet nuclear power plant in Chernobyl” is a perfect example to understand how destructive nuclear accidents can be. Another instance of a nuclear accident is “the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011”.
These examples will help to improve your general knowledge and provide an opportunity to understand the harmful effects of radioactive pollution.
General problems associated with nuclear weapon reactors and handling medical nuclear materials or waste are also harmful to the environment, especially for the worker who comes in close contact with these equipment and waste material.
Natural causes for radioactive pollution
Although humans are mainly responsible for causing radioactive pollution, some natural ways also emit radiation in the environment. For example- radon gas is a natural radioactive pollutant.
Radon is a naturally occurring gas, and it spreads rapidly in the environment. Radon is an odorless, colorless, and inert gas. It does not affect anyone, but if it enters a building, it will be trapped there. If caught, it may lead to lung infections in people who come into contact with the gas.
Cosmic radiation is another example of a natural way to cause radioactive pollution. It trespasses on Earth’s atmosphere from outer space.
What Are The Effects of Radioactive Pollution?
The effects of radioactive pollution vary from person to person, depending on the amount of radiation they took and the sensitivity of each individual. However, a person exposed to a high radiation amount will get immediate and severe impacts of radiation.
Some of the widespread impacts of radioactive pollution have been given here to help you understand the harmful effects of radiation on the environment.
Radiation effects in the form of diseases
Radioactive pollution is extremely harmful to our health. A rare disease Acute radiation syndrome is one of the most dangerous effects of radioactive pollution. However, it is an outcome of high-level radioactive exposure. The impact of this disease is nausea and vomiting within a few hours. If the situation is hugely worst, it may cause the individual’s death within a few days or weeks.
Radiation may also cause cancer, which is the most dominant effect of radiation. The world is touching great heights every day in the field of technology; Simultaneously, radiation-causing agents are equally introducing to the world. The technology improvement is developing high risks for the environment as a surprise package.
However, cancer is the primary effect of radioactive pollution, but it can cause some other diseases as well. For example, – anemia, life-span reduction, leukemia, hemorrhage, premature ageing, deaths, cardiovascular complications, etc.
We all know that radiation is harmful to our health, but it also has adverse effects on genetic mutations. There are chances of genetic birth defects and retardation in the fetus, such as low birth weight by radiation before or during pregnancy. Sometimes, the kids born with some other kinds of problems as an effect of radiation pollution such as disfigured births, impairment like blindness in kids. Infertility is also an impact of radiation in some adverse cases.
Radiation damages the DNA strands causing the change in DNA composition over time. However, the degree of genetic alterations changes from one person to another depending on the level and kind of radiation one has been exposed to.
Radiation may also lead to cell destruction. The body of all the living organisms has millions of cells, and each cell has a particular function to perform. If anything goes wrong, the body of an individual has to pay for it.
Radiation is potent that may spoil the cells present in the body of a living organism causing permanent damage to various organs or organ systems. In extreme exposure to radiation, the person may suffer from lifelong illness and, in severe cases, may also lead to the death of the individual.
Responsible for soil infertility
Radioactive pollution in the atmosphere means it is not only present in the air but has also affected the soil equally. Soil contains various nutrients that make the soil fertile, but it changes the entire composition when radioactive substances enter the ground. As a result, the land becomes infertile and toxic when radioactive elements react with the soil’s nutrients. We can’t consume the crop harvested in such soil.
The plants that grow in radiation-affected soil are genetically modified, affecting the entire food chain. Since vegetation is the base of the food chain, and if the plants have the impacts of radiation, all the high levels of the food chain will retain the radiation level as energy cannot be destroyed.
Radiation and wildlife
The wildlife is equally suffering from radioactive pollution, especially the higher-level animals than insects & other smaller organisms. For example- when herbivores like cattle gaze the contaminated land, the deposition of Ce-13 & I-131 gets assembled in their tissues in a considerable amount. These radionuclides affect the DNA of these animals when they enter their metabolic cycles. Eventually, it leads to genetic mutation with higher risk factors to the health of these animals.
Radiation and sea life
The nuclear power plants are majorly responsible for radioactive pollution. They release various radioisotopes like cesium, Crypton, zinc, radon, ruthenium, copper, etc. into water bodies that reduce water quality. These radionuclides are causing health problem to the living creatures of the sea life.
Exposure to radon gas
Radon gas is very harmful to our lungs. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer; similarly, radon exposure may also lead to lung cancer. A small amount of radiation endangers our lungs when radon enters the body. As per experts, a small amount of exposure is harmless to the human body, but long-term exposure in large amounts in quite harmful to the human body. It may damage the cells of the lining of the lungs and increases the chances of developing lung cancer.
Preventive Measures to Control Radioactive Pollution
The treatment of nuclear waste is crucial to minimize its effects. The degradation time of nuclear waste is different in the case of different radioactive material. Some radioactive substances take few hours to degrade, whereas some others take many years. However, there are some options to treat radioactive waste.
Nuclear waste disposal
- Nuclear waste covered in radiation-shielded containers helps contain waste to some extent, generally buried underground.
- Remote caves or abandoned mines are the areas to isolate radioactive wastes. However, we should also cover these places with a protective shield to minimize the effects.
- Or else, nuclear waste may be diluted until background values are attained.
- Strictly away from the heating sources, cold places are great for storage of radioactive waste. The reason is that heat increases the level of radiation as it is a method of heat transfer.
- Most importantly, law enforcement works effectively to treat radiation effects. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) designs standard environmental laws to conserve nature and protect people from its harmful effects.
- Nuclear power plants should strictly enforce these laws to minimize radioactive pollution to protect future generations from the curse of radiation.
- At an individual level, you can check for radon gas presence in your home, office, or any other building that belongs to you. You can get a testing kit to test the presence of radon gas, and if you found anything positive, you can go for a treatment of radon gas.
- An excellent option to be safe from the radiation effect is to stay away from the sources of radioactive pollution.
Preventive measures during medical examinations
- We should take precaution during medical examinations. You should avoid routine X-rays as the rays are quite harmful to the human body.
- High-quality X-ray equipment should be operated & maintained by a trained technician for safety purposes.
- We shouldn’t use photofluorography X-rays for chest radiography, photofluorography X-rays.
Our body can repair some damages caused to a small extent due to radiation pollution. Still, it is safe to maintain some distance from the sources of radiation pollution. Even our cell phones release radiation, so try to use your mobile phone when necessary. Prevention is better than cure, hence follow the preventive measures for the safety of your loved ones.