Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What is radiation? Easy guide to Ionizing, Non-ionizing, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Neutron Radiation

What is Radiation?

Radiation is categorized in two types, ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionizing is when an atom gains a charged particle such as an electron.  Atoms have a stable amount of charged particles it needs to exist naturally. Adding ions charges the atom and causes it to interact with it's environment differently, and potentially destructively.

Non-ionizing radiation is electromagnetic radiation that does not add or subtract ionizing particles from or into an atom.  On the electromagnetic spectrum, anything below Ultraviolet is non-ionizing.

Ionizing Radiation is any energy or energetic particle that can liberate or add electrons to and from an atom or molecule causing the atom to have a positive or negative charge.

There are four types of ionizing radiation: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Neutron.  For use in radiation testing, the only three you really need to be concerned with are Alpha, Beta, and Gamma.

Types of radiation.


Alpha Radiation is both the most potentially destructive and the least destructive at the same time.  When outside the body, Alpha radiation can't pass through your outer (dead) layer of skin.  The Alpha radiation particle is large (A Helium Nucleus) and is stopped by the first thing it runs into.  Due to the relatively large size of Alpha particles, your skin is dense enough to stop them from moving very far.  However, inside your body, if ingested or inhaled, Alpha radiation is potentially very destructive, due to the sensitive nature of internal organs. high doses can severely damage living cells and destroy DNA and is very likely to cause radiation burns and possibly cancer. On the other hand, nearly 8000 radioactive events take place inside your body every second and they all involve alpha and beta particles.  Low level exposure to alpha radiation is random in it's effects. My personal rule of thumb is, the lesser the better.

Some example elements from the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear power plants that emit Alpha radiation include (man-made) Americium, Plutonium, (naturally occurring) Uranium, Thorium, Radium, Radon, Polonium.


Beta radiation consists of high energy electrons ejected from a radio nuclide.  These electrons can potentially penetrate skin at higher energy levels.  Extended exposure to Beta radiation outside the body and can increase the potential for skin cancer exponentially.  Internal exposure to Beta radiation can cause radiation burns and any number of cancers when high dosage is achieved; these health effects are random and unpredictable. At low dosage, damage can potentially be mitigated by your body's immune system and basic healing.

Some example elements from the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear power plants that emit Beta radiation include Tritium, Iodine-121 and 131, Cesium-137, strontium-90, carbon-14, and sulfur-35.


Gamma radiation is electromagnetic radiation that can penetrate almost anything less dense than lead.  Gamma radiation is very difficult to control or contain.  Either external or internal, Gamma radiation can penetrate any part of the body and potentially cause damage in any organ or any cell. Gamma radiation often follows beta radiation.

Some example elements from the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear power plants that emit Gamma radiation include all the Beta emitting radio nuclides.

Gamma Radiation is very common and is produced naturally in the environment.  There is background gamma radiation everywhere.  It potentially takes a larger amount of gamma radiation exposure over an extended period of time to cause radiation burn or cancer than Beta or Alpha radiation. The reason is the greater chance that Gamma Radiation will pass through your body without any collision. Beta and Alpha, being much larger particles, have an exponentially higher chance of collision.  

Get more information:


Radioactive Decay


For more information on the types of Radiation please visit HPS.ORG


A free basic e-book by the EPA about Ionizing Radiation.
Click Here!

An E-book with lots of different information.  It has a money back guarantee, so if you don't like it, get your money back.
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More Advanced Reading:

Serious Study:

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