What is Radioactive Pollution?

The release of radioactive substances into the atmosphere, water, and soil mainly because of human activities is known as radioactive pollution.

Sources of Radioactive Pollution

X-rays are used for detecting skeletal disorders. X-rays are harmful to human health because these rays can pass through genetic cells which affect chromosomes. This can hamper the development of the brain and can even cause mutations.

Mining of radioactive ores: The mining of ores like uranium produces radioactive by-products resulting in radioactive pollution.

The use of Uranium 235 and Plutonium 239 while testing nuclear weapons leads to the emission of radioactive wastes. These radioactive particles are then carried away by the wind to different places or are brought down by rain. This results in soil pollution which in turn pollutes water. Aquatic organisms then consume these radioactive wastes which are passed onto humans by the food chain.

In atomic and nuclear power plants, fuels and coolants are sources of radioactive pollution. The radioactive wastes emitted by these power plants are extremely dangerous for living organisms.

Radioactive isotopes are used in research laboratories. Used water from these laboratories pollutes various water bodies.

Types of Environmental radiation

Radioactive waste is the most dangerous pollutant on the Earth as it is not easy to safely dispose of. These wastes remain in the environment for a long period. Any leakage in a nuclear plant may threaten the survival of humans living in nearby areas. It also has disastrous effects on plants, animals, and soil. Environmental radiation can be divided into two types—natural and man-made.

Natural Radiation:

Cosmic radiations from outer space reaching the surface of the Earth and terrestrial radiation emanating from natural isotopes from the Earth’s surface.

Man-made Radiation:

It originates during the process of making nuclear weapons and nuclear electrical power. Unsafe disposal of radioactive wastes results in pollution. Radioactive pollution not only results in environmental pollution but also has an adverse impact on human health, plant and animal life. The leakage of gas from the Chernobyl atomic reactor in Russia on 26 April 1986 led to the death of many people. It also affected the plant and animal life in the region.

Effects of Radioactive Pollution

Radioactive pollution is caused during the testing of nuclear weapons, the establishment of nuclear plants, and the mining and refining of radioactive substances such as uranium and thorium.

Effects of Radioactive Pollution on the Environment

  • Radioactive pollution affects our environment. The radioactive wastes cannot be destroyed, and hence, they remain in our environment for a longer period of time. They can lead to the discolouring of trees in the forests. After the Chernobyl nuclear accident, a pine forest cover near the power plant turned reddish-brown.
  • The underground disposal of radioactive wastes may contaminate the drinking water which may be harmful to plants, animals, and humans.

Effects of Radioactive Pollution on Human Health

  • Radiations are extremely dangerous for human health as they produce harmful changes in the body cells and affect genes.
  • When people are exposed to radiation, their offspring may also be affected, and thus, mutations may be transmitted to future generations. These are known as genetic variations.
  • Exposure to radioactive pollution may cause damage to body organs. It may result in lung cancer, brain cancer, thyroid cancer, sterility, and reduced or defective eyesight.

Methods to Control Radioactive Pollution

  • Use of X rays should be minimised.
  • Atomic or nuclear reactors should be regularly checked to ensure safety conditions.
  • Nuclear devices should be tested deep underground.
  • Production of radio isotopes should be minimised.
  • In nuclear mines, wet drilling should be used along with underground drainage.
  • Nuclear wastes should be handled with care and should be stored in shielded and corrosion-proof containers and then stored deep underground so that they may not escape and their proper decay takes place.
  • Radiation levels should always be kept within the permissible limits.
  • Radiation-resistant walls should be built around areas located close to nuclear reactors.
  • Ground disposal of radiation wastes should be under approved rock and soil.

Also, Read What is Water Pollution?

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