The harm caused by radiation depends on many factors, but the three main ones are:
There are many different types of radiation, which can be categorised as either ionising or non-ionising.
Examples of ionising radiation include:
IIonising radiation is typically more harmful than non-ionising radiation because it can penetrate and damage the atoms and molecules in our living cells
Ionising radiation can also mutate our DNA. This can lead to the development of cancer, a disease in which the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to different parts of the body.
Examples of non-ionising radiation include:
Although non-ionising radiation is generally less harmful, excessive exposure, such as to too much ultraviolet radiation, can still damage our DNA and potentially lead to cancer.
The harm caused by radiation also depends on the location of the radioactive source.
If the radioactive source is outside the body, then alpha radiation is not as harmful because it is not very penetrating, so it can’t penetrate the skin.
In this case, beta and gamma radiation are the most harmful because they can both penetrate the skin to damage our cells.
If the radioactive source is inside the body, then alpha radiation is the most harmful because it is easily absorbed by cells. In contrast, beta and gamma radiation are less likely to be absorbed by cells; they typically pass straight through.
The radiation dose refers to the amount of radiation to which you are exposed, and it depends on:
The higher the dose of radiation to a cell, the more likely it is that the cell will become cancerous.