Agent Identification - Radiological

Radiological devices include devices which emit radiation from the decay of unstable isotopes. Common sources include spent fuel, and medical/oncological radiation units and devices. Accidental exposures in South America have demonstrated the capability of a spent fuel medical device to cause illness to those exposed and contamination of the location and ground where the exposure occurred. Additionally, the fear, potential panic and financial impact of a radiologically contaminated location which may follow an event of this type.

Properties of radiation particles may not be common knowledge for some medical providers. Alpha particles are large and travel only a few millimeters. They penetrate minimally and can be blocked by paper, clothing or skin. Harmful effects are minimal and are limited requiring inhalation or ingestion to achieve significant exposure. Beta particles are smaller, release more energy and therefore penetrate several millimeters in the skin requiring personal protection to avoid harm. Gamma particles are the most harmful of all and require lead shielding to protect from extensive burns and internal damage on exposure.

Alpha Particles

  • Found in isotope production facilities and from heavy radioactive isotope decay (plutonium, uranium)
  • Large and heavy mass, highly charged, low velocity
  • Deposit large energy in small volume of tissue
  • Only travels a few centimeters in air; dissipates energy quickly
  • Least dangerous exposure
  • May be harmful if incorporated internally (inhaled or ingested)
  • Minimal penetration; blocked by paper, clothing, skin

Beta Particles

  • Produced from decay of most radioisotopes
  • Smaller mass and charge, greater velocity than alpha
  • Less ionization and interaction with matter
  • Penetrates deeper, several (8) millimeters through skin
  • Requires protective clothing Less harmful if incorporated internally (inhaled or ingested)

Gamma Ray

  • Emitted following beta decay of most radioisotopes
  • Electromagnetic waves (similar to x-rays), no mass or charge
  • Travels several meters in air, many centimeters in tissue
  • Most penetrating and dangerous
  • Requires lead shielding
  • Results in extensive burns and internal damage
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