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There are many sources of harmful, high energy radiation. Industrial radiographers are mainly concerned with exposure from x-ray generators and radioactive isotopes. It is important to understand that eighty percent of human exposure comes from natural sources such as outer space, rocks and soil, radon gas, and the human body. The remaining twenty percent comes from man-made radiation sources, such as those used in medical and dental diagnostic procedures.
One source of natural radiation is cosmic radiation. The earth and all living things on it are constantly being bombarded by radiation from space. The sun and stars emits EM radiation of all wavelengths. Charged particles from the sun and stars interact with the earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field to produce a shower of radiation, typically beta and gamma radiation. The dose from cosmic radiation varies in different parts of the world due to differences in elevation and the effects of the earth’s magnetic field.
Radioactive material is also found throughout nature. It occurs naturally in soil, water, plants and animals. The major isotopes of concern for terrestrial radiation are uranium and the decay products of uranium, such as thorium, radium, and radon. Low levels of uranium, thorium, and their decay products are found everywhere. Some of these materials are ingested with food and water, while others, such as radon, are inhaled. The dose from terrestrial sources varies in different parts of the world. Locations with higher concentrations of uranium and thorium in their soil have higher dose levels. All people also have radioactive isotopes, such as potassium-40 and carbon-14, inside their bodies. The variation in dose from one person to another is not as great as the variation in dose from cosmic and terrestrial sources.
There are also a number of manmade radiation sources that present some exposure to the public. Some of these sources include tobacco, television sets, smoke detectors, combustible fuels, certain building materials, nuclear fuel for energy production, nuclear weapons, medical and dental X-rays, nuclear medicine, X-ray security systems and industrial radiography. By far, the most significant source of man-made radiation exposure to the average person is from medical procedures, such as diagnostic X-rays, nuclear medicine, and radiation therapy.