In its simplest terms, radiation is defined as the emission and propagation of energy in the form of rays or waves. There are two classes of radiation, non-ionizing and ionizing. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include infrared, microwave, radio or television waves, or visible light. Examples of ionizing radiation, which presents more dangers, include alpha, beta, gamma, and x-ray.
Because of its association with nuclear bombs and weapons, radiation carries a stigma not attached to any other form of energy. Yet we are exposed to radiation from a variety of “natural” sources wholly unrelated to nuclear facilities or weapons. We get exposed to radiation from the atmosphere through charged particles and gamma rays, much of which is filtered before it reaches us. Radiation in the ground, also known as radon, is common in many places, including on the island of Ireland. Radon gas comes from uranium found naturally in some rock formations. If a house sits above a heavy source of radon it can present dangers, which are easily eliminated by constructing a barrier against the radon infiltrating the house. And of course we get low doses of radiation from medical tests, such as x-rays and CAT scans, that keep us healthy.
Certainly the most worrisome radiation exposure is from nuclear bombs, as in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in the Second World War, or from disasters at nuclear power plants such as Windscale (1957), Three Mile Island (1979), and Chernobyl (1986), and the recent disaster in Fukushima Japan. In such circumstances the levels of radiation are magnitudes higher than what we receive from natural sources or medical tests.
Some further ideas to explore on Radiation:
What levels of radiation are you exposed to? Is there a calculator applicable to radiation exposure for the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland that will give you an estimate of the level of exposure typically found.
What is a safe level of radiation exposure? For adults? For children?
What levels of radiation were the children of Chernobyl exposed to? How about the children of Fukushima? How do those levels of radiation exposure compare to what you receive from “natural” sources?
Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, “Radon and your environment,”
Health Protection Agency, “Radon in Dwellings in Northern Ireland: Atlas and 1999 Review,”
US EPA, “Calculate your radiation dose,” epa.gov/radiation/understand/calculate.html
Robert Emmet Hernan, This Borrowed Earth: Lessons From The 15 Worst Environmental Disasters Around The World (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).