Nuclear Radiation: Its Biological Effects

Nuclear Power PlantIonizing radiation has enough energy to cause drastic chemical changes in human cells. Cells may die or become abnormal, either permanently or temporarily. By causing damages to your own DNA, radiation can cause serious diseases such as cancer. The extent of the damage to the cells entirely depends upon the duration and amount of the exposure, as well as the number of organs exposed to radiation.

Unit of measurement

REM (Roentgen equivalent in man) is the unit to measure radiation dosage. This determines the safe to harmful levels of radiation on the human cell. A short dose of up to 50 rem will probably cause no harm, except for minor changes in blood. From 50 to 200 rem, there may be illness, but death is highly unlikely. Overexposure to 200 to 1000 rem will most likely cause serious illness, and beyond 1000 rem will cause fatality.

Protection from radiation sources

There are some ways in which workers can protect themselves from radiation sources:

  • In occupational situations, workers can reduce dose by limiting exposure time.
  • Barriers of lead, water or concrete give good protection from high levels of penetrating radiation such as gamma rays.
  • Workers should also confine materials and keep these out of their environment to avoid prolonged exposure.

The EEOICPA Benefits

The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOICPA) aims to compensate nuclear weapons workers who were made ill by work done in the US nuclear weapons industry. This also provides medical benefits for approved illnesses.

Part B of EEOICPA provides compensation for workers with radiation-induced cancers, beryllium disease or silicosis. Victims with approved claims will receive a lump-sum payment of up to $150,000 and medical benefits for the covered illness.

Covered illnesses are:

  • Cancer
  • Beryllium sensitivity
  • Chronic silicosis

With high exposure, experts predicting the level of risk remain a mystery. In fact, experts suggest that, in terms of affecting most people, low-level background exposure is already a hazardous source of radiation. So while high exposure is truly horrible experience, it’s the slow burn of low exposure that workers worry the most.