Socialist Worker

Nuclear radiation: Hazardous for billions of years

Issue No. 2247

Radiation occurs naturally. But nuclear power creates highly concentrated, unnatural, forms of radiation. Radiation is linked to cell damage and cell mutations. Children, foetuses, older people and ill people are more at risk from radiation because their cells are damaged, weak or rapidly growing.

Some types of radiation are more powerful than others. Gamma rays, for example, are the most penetrating type. They can only be blocked by thick lead.

Cesium-137, which is often released from nuclear reactors, emits gamma rays. Nuclear reactors also often release strontium-90 and tritium, which emit beta radiation particles.

Our bodies store radiation. They often mistake strontium-90 for calcium, and store it in bones.

Radioactive products stay radioactive for a long time. They often have “half-lives” of millions of years—that’s the time it takes for a radioactive element to decay by 50 percent.

Uranium-238, which is used in fission reactors, has a half-life of four and a half billion years!

Hazardous life, the time it will take for a radioactive element to decay to undetectable levels, is defined as ten to 20 times the half-life.

Nuclear power involves the production of dangerous material that will last for billions of years. This is just one reason why nuclear plants should be shut down.

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