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EH&S - Radiation Safety

What is Radiation?

Atomic Structure and Radioactivity

Natural and Man-made Radiation

Risk Communication


Radiation Biology - Interaction of Radiation and Matter


Exposure Reduction and Contamination Control




Radiation Detection Instruments




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Radiation is energy, in motion, in the form of waves or streams of particles. There are many kinds of
radiation. Sound is a familiar form of radiation. Various types of electromagnetic radiation are all around
us. Visible light is an example of electromagnetic radiation as are Ultraviolet radiation which produces a
suntan, and infrared radiation which is a form of heat energy.
High-energy gamma ray and x-rays are one kind of electromagnetic radiation, which can cause changes
in atoms creating electrically charged atoms or molecules, which we call ions. Radiation, which has
enough energy to produce ions, is called ionizing radiation. All other forms of electromagnetic radiation
are called non-ionizing radiation, ultraviolet light, visible, infrared, short-wave, radio, television and higher
wavelengths up to the electrical power transmission frequency bands.

Becquerel - For measuring radioactivity, the unit used is the Becquerel (Bq) to describe the number of
atomic disintegrations per second in a radioactive substance.
The term radiation dose is applied to the effects of radiation on any given material. It is
necessary to distinguish between exposure, absorbed dose, and dose equivalent.
Exposure - The Roentgen (R) is the old unit of exposure and is defined or measured as the ability of
photons to produce ionization in air. The roentgen is no longer used in radiation protection, as it applies
only to photons (gamma and x-rays), is related only to their effect in air. The S.I. unit has no name; the
units are Coulomb per kilogram.
Absorbed Dose - The Gray (Gy) is defined as the amount of energy deposited per unit mass of tissue.
The absorbed dose can result from all types of radiation in any material. One gray (Gy) = 1 joule per kg of
mass and it is necessary to define the absorbing material when using grays as a unit for absorbed dose.
One Gray will produce various levels of tissue damage depending on the type of radiation.
Equivalent Dose - The dose equivalent or Sievert (Sv) is the amount of energy absorbed in a given mass
multiplied by a quality factor, which is specific for each type of radiation.
1 Sv = 1 Gy x Q
Quality factors for various type of ionizing radiation are listed. The higher the quality factor the higher the
absorbed energy damage in tissues.
Type of radiation

Alpha Particles

Energy range
< 10 keV
10 keV to 100 keV
>100 keV to 2MeV
> 2MeV to 20 MeV

Quality factor

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A simplistic model of an atom will be used to describe the basic properties of radiation and radioactivity.
The atom can be thought of as a system containing a positively charged nucleus and negatively charged
electrons, which are in orbit around the nucleus.
The nucleus is the central core of the atom and is composed of protons, which are positively charged and
neutrons, which have a neutral charge. Each of these particles has a mass of approximately one atomic
mass unit (1 AMU = 1.66E-24 g). Electrons surround the nucleus in orbitals of various energies. In simple
terms, the farther an electron is from the nucleus, the less energy is required to free it from the atom.
Electrons are much lighter than protons and neutrons. Each electron has a mass of approximately 5.5E-4
a) Elements and Isotopes
Each element has a unique number of protons that determine its chemical properties. The number of
protons in an atom is its atomic number and is represented by the symbol Z. There is 1 proton in
Hydrogen, therefore, Z=1. The atomic number is a subscript, for example 1H, 2He, 3Li, 4Be, 5B, 6C, etc,
when the chemical symbol for an element is used with its atomic number. The total number of nuclear
particles (protons and neutrons) is the mass number and is represented by the symbol A. The mass
number is a superscript, e.g. 1H, 2H, 3H, when the chemical symbol for an element is used with its mass
number. There are three isotopes of Hydrogen, two isotopes 1H and 2H are stable isotopes, the third 3H
is radioactive and is commonly referred to as Tritium since there are three nuclear particles in the
Each of the elements has various isotopes or nuclides some of which are stable and others which
radioactive. There are approximately 1500 known nuclides for the 110 elements. Most are artificially
produced and are radioactive, and approximately 270 nuclides are stable. Radioactive nuclides can
generally be described as having an excess or deficiency of neutrons in the nucleus.

Stability and Instability

The chart to the right represents all

of the known nuclides that exist.
Examination of the chart
demonstrates that all the known
nuclides cluster about a line near the
center of the chart. This is list is
referred to as the Line of Stability.
The difference between stability and
instability of many atoms depends on
the number of protons and neutrons
in the nucleus. Unstable atoms
attempt to become stable by
rearranging the number of protons
and neutrons in the nucleus to
achieve a more stable ratio. The
excess energy from this
rearrangement is ejected or emitted from the nucleus as kinetic energy. When the rearrangement occurs,
the nuclide usually changes atomic number (for example, a neutron changes into a proton and electron,
or a proton captures an electron and becomes a neutron, etc.) The ratio of neutrons to protons needed
for a stable atom ranges from one neutron per proton up to one and a half neutrons per proton for the
higher Z atoms. All nuclides strive for the state at which the least amount of energy is required to
maintain a stable state.

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The property of certain nuclides (radionuclides) to spontaneously emit particles, gamma radiation, x-rays
following orbital electron capture, or undergo spontaneous fission is known as radioactive decay. Each
unstable nucleus can disintegrate to form an unstable or stable daughter nucleus. The atom is said to
decay in this process.
Types of Radiation
A radioisotope normally emits one or more of the four types of radiation when it decays.
a) Alpha Particle
Alpha particles are doubly charged helium
nuclei (He2+). Sources of alpha radiation
are common in nature and include thorium,
uranium, and radium. Alpha emitting
radioisotopes with one exception (Sm-147)
have atomic numbers greater than eightytwo. Alpha emitters such as Pu-239 and
Am-241 are mixed with beryllium to create
sealed neutron sources. Neutron sources
are used to study neutron effects on
Alpha particles are highly energetic. Alpha particles have energies of 4 MeV (million electron volts) or
greater. A thin absorber such as a sheet of paper or the dead layer of the skin easily stops alpha
particles. Such sources do not present a great hazard external to the body. Inside the body, however,
alpha emitters are highly significant, because the alpha particle is doubly charged and relatively massive.
The alpha particle undergoes many interactions with surrounding atoms, depositing all its energy in a very
small volume. Every effort must be taken to prevent alpha emitting sources from entering the body.
b) Beta Particles (negatron or
There are two decay schemes, which are
called beta decay. One scheme involves
the emission of a negative beta
(negatron) which is an electron, which
originates from the nucleus. The second
scheme involves the emission of a
positron, the "anti-matter" of the
negatron. The mass is identical to the
beta but unlike the negative beta it has a
positive charge. Therefore, a beta
particle is an unpaired singly charged
electron possessing kinetic energy. The
mass of the beta particle is about 1/8000 of the mass of an alpha particle. There are many naturally
occurring beta-emitting radioisotopes as well as artificially produced radioisotopes. Beta-emitting
radioisotopes are most common in the laboratory and include H-3, C-14, P-32, and S-35. The ability of a
beta particle to penetrate matter is a function of its energy. The higher the energy of the particle the
greater the ability of the particle to penetrate a material.
Low-energy beta particles (less than 0.2 MeV) are easily absorbed in the outer layer of skin; beta-emitting
sources external to the body present a somewhat greater threat of penetration when compared to alpha
emitters. Sources inside the body within cells or incorporated into biologically active molecules may give
significant radiation doses that disable and kill cells.

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c) Gamma and x-ray

Gamma and x-ray radiations have no
mass, and are uncharged
electromagnetic radiation that can pass
through matter. Gamma and x-rays
create ionization in materials, through
which they pass, causing excited
electrons to be ejected from the atomic
structure. Interactions per unit volume
are less than for alpha or beta particles,
since gamma and x-rays are without
mass or charge, and therefore, are
extremely more penetrating than
particles. Gamma and x-rays have
identical physical characteristics, and differ only in their method of production. Gamma rays result from
the emission of energy as an excited nucleus drops from one energy level to a lower energy state; x-rays
result from transitions within the electron cloud of an atom or are emitted when a charged particle is
quickly decelerated by running into dense material. The penetrating ability of gamma and x-rays makes
them biological hazards whether they are external or internal.
d) Neutrons
Neutron radiation is the least common in the research laboratory. The absorption properties of neutrons
are very complex as compared to charged particles and electromagnetic radiation. Neutron absorption is
a function of the absorber's atomic weight, neutron to proton ratio, and interaction probabilities with
various nuclei. Exposure to neutron radiation is a concern as the biological damage from sources external
and internal to the body is greater than equivalent amounts of beta and gamma radiation.
The process of radioactive decay changes a
radioisotope into a different isotope. Therefore,
over time the amount of a particular radioisotope
(parent) in a sample or a stock vial is continually
decreasing. Each radioisotope has a unique decay
rate. The rate of decay is expressed by the
isotopes physical half-life, the time required for an
amount of radioisotope to decrease to one-half of
its original quantity, see figure to the right. The
decrease is exponential, so after each half-life,
one-half of the radioactive atoms in the sample will
have decayed away. If you start with 1000 atoms at
time zero, after one half-life there are 500 atoms
left, after two half-lives there are 250 atoms left.
After seven half-lives the activity remaining is
1/1024th of the original activity.
a) Energy
The energy carried away by the different types of radiation is expressed in units of electron volts (eV).
The electron volt is a very small quantity of energy (1.6 x 10-19 Joules). The radiation energy ranges from
thousands to millions of electron volts. The units are written as keV, kiloelectron (1000 eV) or MeV, Mega
electron volts (1,000,000 eV). The amount of energy involved and the type of radiation emitted
determines the penetrability or range of the radiation and consequently the type and the required shield
thickness to protect workers form the radiation. All things being equal, the higher the energy, the more
penetrating the radiation. Gamma and x-rays are more penetrating than neutrons, alpha, and beta

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b) Activity
Activity is the number of radioactive nuclei that change or disintegrate per unit time (for example per
second). The unit of activity used is the Becquerel. One Becquerel represents 1 nuclear disintegration
per second.
c) Energy Loss Mechanisms
When charged particles (negatrons, positrons, and alpha particles) interact with any absorbing
material the energy of the particle is deposited in the absorber (tissue, shielding, walls, etc). There are
two mechanisms: which account for all of the energy being deposited in an absorber, collisional energy
losses and radiative energy losses call Bremsstrahlung.
Collisional Energy Loss
The dominant interaction is collisional energy loss. The particle interacts directly with an absorber atom's
orbital electrons causing excitation or ionization.
Radiative (Bremsstrahlung)
A negatron also interacts with the electrical field around the nucleus, which produces a deflection in the
path of the charged particle. The particle speed is reduced due to energy loss and there is directional
change. The energy loss is emitted as electromagnetic radiation called bremsstrahlung. The energy of
bremsstrahlung usually falls within the x-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum hence Brem x-rays.
Brem production is proportional to the maximum energy of the charged particle and to the atomic number
Z, of the absorber.
Brem produced (%) = 3.3 X 10-2 Emax Z
Probability of Interaction
Photons only interact occasionally and may only release some energy or all of their energy. The chance
interaction is often referred to as the probability of an interaction for photons rather than the amount of
energy lost over some path length. Photons do not have a range.
Gamma and x-rays do not carry an electric charge and therefore can pass through a large number of
atoms without any interaction occurring. However, occasionally they will interact with an atomic electron
or an atomic nucleus in a number of ways. The following are the most
important interactions:
Photoelectric Effect: The energy of the x-ray or gamma ray is completely
transferred to an atomic electron, which is ejected from its atom. The xray or gamma ray no longer exists after the collision.
Compton Effect: The x-ray or gamma ray loses only part of its energy in
its interaction with an atomic electron. The electron is ejected from its
atom. The x-ray or gamma ray of reduced energy and longer wavelength
and the electron fly off in different directions.

Pair Production: Gamma rays with energy greater than about 1.2
MeV may interact with an atomic nucleus to form an electron
positron pair. The gamma-ray energy is completely converted into
the mass and kinetic energy of the electron and positron. Only a
very small amount of energy goes to the nucleus in order to
conserve momentum.
All of the above reactions result in the production of either energetic electrons, or electrons and positrons.
The charged particles produce the ionization, which leads to harmful effects in living tissue.

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Z Dependency
An important consideration of photoelectric effect, Compton
effect, and pair production is the way in which the probability of
the interaction depends on both the photon energy and the
atomic number of the absorbing medium. At any given energy
a photon has a relative probability of interacting with the
shielding materials (lead, Lucite, concrete, etc).
The chance of avoiding an interaction decreases exponentially
with absorber thickness. In theory only an infinitely thick
absorber or shield could stop all incident photons. Sufficient
shielding is placed in the radiation path to reduce the dose rate
to a reasonable level (ALARA).
Two terms commonly used are Half-Value layer (HVL) and
Tenth Value Layer (TVL) when discussing the thickness of
shielding required to reduce the intensity of the photons. A
HVL is a thickness of material which will reduce exposure rate
TO one half of the original intensity, and a TVL is a thickness of material which will reduce exposure rate
TO one tenth of the original intensity. The Radiation Protection Handbook has individual HVL Values
listed for some of the radioisotopes.
d) Range of a Charged Particle
As a charged particle interacts with an absorber it loses its kinetic energy more or less continuously along
its path and then stops. The maximum thickness the beta particles can penetrate in a particular absorber
is called the RANGE. For example, the range of P-32 in Lucite is 0.66 cm. The range is very dependent
on the maximum energy of the radioisotope. Most of the beta particles emitted from a source are
absorbed in distances considerably less than the range. The ranges for a particular radioisotope in
selected materials can be found in the Radiation Protection Handbook under individual isotope.


The discovery of naturally occurring radioactivity and penetrating radiation, and the realization that
humans have always lived in an environment with a natural background of radiation, occurred near the
turn of the century. The following are three principle sources of natural radiation:
1) Cosmic radiation consists of high-energy particulate radiation produced in the stars and our own sun
that bombard the earth and makes the atoms in the upper atmosphere radioactive. To some extent, the
lower atmosphere absorbs the radiation produced in the upper atmosphere, so the exposure from cosmic
rays depends upon how near one is to outer space and, the outer atmosphere. The cosmic ray intensity
doubles for each mile of altitude. Denver, at an altitude of one mile, has a cosmic radiation intensity of
about 0.5 mSv/yr compared to an intensity of about 0.25 mSv/yr observed at sea level. Calgarys cosmic
radiation level is approximately 0.40 mSv/yr. Air travel results in an average exposure of approximately 5
uSv per hour of flight. The average Canadian dose equivalent from this cosmic radiation is 0.30 mSv per
2) Terrestrial (Natural radioactivity) radiation consists of penetrating gamma and x-rays that result from
the radioactive decay of naturally occurring, primordial radioactive materials (for example, potassium,
uranium, thorium, etc.) found in the earth's crust. Most building materials contain some small amounts of
radioactivity. Thus, remaining indoors would only reduce a person's terrestrial dose by about 20%; the
remaining 80% of the exposure would emanate from the housing materials. The average Canadian
population dose equivalent is 0.35 mSv per year.

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2a) Radon is an inert gaseous element resulting from the decay of uranium. Since radon is a gas, it
readily escapes from soil, especially if the soil has been disturbed in any way. Radon-222 has a half-life
of 38 days which produces several radioactive elements collectively referred to as radon daughters
which are not gases and, therefore, precipitate out of the atmosphere by attaching themselves to dust
particles in the air. The external radiation hazard due to radon daughters is very small. The radon
daughters emit alpha particles which are not very penetrating as the particles only travel a small distance
in tissue or air. However, inhaled dust particles bearing the radon daughters may lodge in lungs where
sensitive tissue is then directly exposed to the alpha radiation from the radon daughters. Estimates of the
average dose equivalent to the lungs vary, but the average effective dose equivalent for Canada is
around 1 mSv per year.
3) Internal radiation exposure results from the presence of naturally occurring radionuclides (K-40, C14,
H-3, etc.) that were ingested and treated by the body like non-radioactive elements. Potassium is an
important part of our body and the food system. Potassium is incorporated into many tissues and
contributes more than 95% of the internal dose experienced by the population. Potassium-40 makes up
0.0117% of all potassium. The average dose equivalent due to internal radionuclides is approximately
0.35 mSv per year.
Man-made exposure sources are primarily due to the application of radiation in the medical and dental
treatment area. However, humans have used radioactivity for over one hundred years, and through its
use, added to natural occurring radioactive materials. The amounts are small compared to the natural
amounts. Since the halting of above ground testing of nuclear weapons the amount of man made
radiation source in the environment has been decreasing due to the short half-lives of many of the
Summaries of the United States and Canadian Dose estimates are shown below
United States population
Canadian population
Natural Sources
Cosmic Radiation
Terrestrial Radiation
Internal Radionuclides
Inhaled (Radon)
Manmade Sources
Airline Travel
Consumer Products
Nuclear Power

0.27 mSv/yr
0.28 mSv/yr
0.39 mSv/yr
2.00 mSv/yr
2.94 mSv/yr

0.30 mSv/yr
0.35 mSv/yr
0.35 mSv/yr
1.00 mSv/yr
2.00 mSv /yr

0.53 mSv/yr
approx. 5 uSv / hour
0.10 mSv/yr
0.01 mSv/yr
0.63 mSv/yr
3.54 mSv per year

0.92 mSv
0.03 mSv- pass. flightcrew 1.6 mSv/yr
0.04 mSv/yr
0.01 mSv/yr
1.05 mSv /yr
3.05 mSv per year

The total background radiation dose estimate for Canadians is approximately 3.0 mSv/yr. These are
averages for the entire population, and there are many instances where the specific local conditions such
as elevated levels of uranium and thorium in the soil, or location at a higher altitude may easily increase
the contributions from some natural sources by a large factor. The exposure to man-made sources is of
course also not uniform, especially for medical diagnoses where there is a very large variation for
individual exposures. Considering both the natural and man-made sources, the background radiation can
vary by more than a factor of two.

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Naturally occurring background levels of radiation can typically range from 1.0 to 3.5 mSv per year and in
some places can be much higher. The highest known level of background radiation is in Kerala and
Madras States in India where a population of over 100,000 people receive an annual dose rate which
averages 13 mSv, due to the higher levels of terrestrial radiation.
Radioactivity of some natural and other materials
1 adult human
1 kg of coffee
1 kg phosphate fertilizer
Air in a 100 metre2 home
1 household smoke detector
Radioisotope for medical diagnosis
Radioisotope source for medical therapy
1 kg uranium ore
1 kg of coal ash
1 kg of granite

3,000 Bq
1,000 Bq
5,000 Bq
3,000 Bq
37,000 Bq
70,000,000 Bq
100,000,000 million Bq
10,000,000 Bq
2,000 Bq
1,000 Bq

K-40, C-14, I-129
K-40 and various nuclides
Radium and decay products
U-235, U-238
Thorium and Uranium
Thorium and Uranium

Listed below are some uses of radioactive materials historically and presently
Americium 241
Carbon 14
Cesium 137
Chromium 51
Cobalt 57
Cobalt 60
Iodine 123
Iodine 129
Iodine 131
Iridium 192
Nickel 63
Phosphorus 32
Technetium 99m
Thoriated tungsten
Tritium H 3 :
Uranium 235
Uranium 238

Used in smoke detectors, Used to measure levels of toxic lead in dried paint samples,
Uniform thickness gauge in rolling processes like steel and paper production
Helps in research to ensure that potential new drugs are metabolized without forming
harmful by-products
Used to treat cancers, Used in flow control in oil pipelines, Used as fill level gauge for
packages of food, drugs and other products. (The products in these packages do not
become radioactive.)
Used in research in red blood cell survival studies
Used in nuclear medicine diagnosis scans of patients' organs, and anemia
Used to sterilize surgical instruments, Used to improve the safety and reliability of industrial
fuel oil burners, and to preserve poultry, fruits, and spices
Used to diagnose thyroid disorders
Used to check some radioactivity counters, Used in vitro diagnostic testing laboratories
Used to diagnose and treat thyroid disorders
Used to test the integrity of pipeline welds, boilers, and aircraft parts
Used to detect explosives, Used as voltage regulators and current surge protectors
Used in molecular biology and genetics research
Used for diagnostic studies in nuclear medicine. Different chemical forms used for brain,
bone, liver, spleen and kidney imaging and also for blood flow studies
Used in electric arc welding rods in the construction, aircraft, petrochemical, and food
processing equipment industries. Produces easier starting, greater arc stability and less
metal contamination
Used for life science and drug metabolism studies to ensure the safety of potential new
drugs, Used for self-luminous aircraft and commercial exit signs, for luminous dials, gauges
and wristwatches.
Fuel for nuclear power plants and naval nuclear propulsion systems...also used to produce
fluorescent glassware, a variety of coloured glazes, and wall tiles
Used to make counterbalance weights in some types of civil and military aircraft

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The average person in Calgary receives approximately between 2 3 mSv every year from naturally
occurring background radiation as well as man-made sources. Approximately 80 percent of the dose is
from natural sources of radiation. Radon is a major component of that exposure.
Radiation causes ionizations in the molecules of living cells. These ionizations result in the removal of
electrons from the atoms and form ions. The ions formed go on to react with other atoms and cause
damage in the cell. An example of damage would be a gamma ray which passes through the cell. The
water molecules near the DNA might be ionized and the ions might react with the DNA and caused it to
break. The low doses that we receive every day from background radiation allow the cells to repair the
damage rapidly. The cells might not be able to repair the damage at higher doses (up to 1000 mSv), and
the cells may either be changed permanently or die. The body can just replace most cells that die.
However, cells changed permanently may go on to produce abnormal cells. These abnormal cells may
become cancerous under the right circumstances. This is the origin of our increased risk to cancer as a
result of radiation exposure.
The following table gives a scale of radiation dose levels and the effects
Dose Estimate
10,000 mSv
(10 Sievert)
1,000 mSv
(1 Sievert)
50 mSv/yr. and
100mSv in a 5
year period
1 mSv/yr.
2 mSv/yr.
0.23 mSv/yr.
0.05 mSv/hr.

Likely Effects
A short-term dose would cause immediate illness and subsequent death within a few
A short-term dose would probably cause (temporary) illness such as nausea, but not
death, and in 5 of every 100 persons exposed to this dose would probably cause
cancer many years later.
Dose limit for nuclear energy workers. The limit includes all individuals who work with
radioactive materials in a University setting.
The dose limit for members of the general public.
Normal background radiation in Calgary from natural sources.
The average dose estimate for radioactive material users at the University of Calgary
The design target for maximum annual radiation at the perimeter fence of a nuclear
electricity generating station. The actual dose is less.

The biological effects are so small that the effects for low levels of radiation exposure cannot be detected
with certainty. Radiation protection standards assume that the effect is directly proportional to the dose.
According to this linear theory of radiation effects, the effect is halved if the dose is halved.
Scientific committees started in the 1950s first evaluated risk estimates for radiation. The most recent of
these committees were the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation Committee Five (BEIR V). Like
previous committees, this one was charged with estimating the risk associated with radiation exposure.
The BEIR IV Committee established risks exclusively for radon and other internal alpha-emitting radiation,
while BEIR V Committee concentrated primarily on external radiation exposure data.
Risks from radiation are difficult to estimate. Most of the radiation exposures that humans receive are very
close to background levels. In most cases, the effects of radiation are not distinguishable from normal
levels. Unfortunately the researchers and users of radiation in the early part of the century were not as
careful as researchers are today. Most of what we know about radiation and its effects on humans

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comes from medical applications and from the survivors of the atomic bomb survivors in Japan. The
following are some limitations or radiation risk estimates of BEIR V:
1. The dose rates were much higher than normally received today.
2. The actual doses received by the atomic bomb survivors group and some of the medical treatment
cases have had to be estimated and are not known precisely.
3. Other factors like ethnic origin, natural levels of cancers, diet, smoking, stress and researcher biases
affect the estimates.
The linear, no-threshold dose-response model (line 1 in
the Figure) implies that radiation exposure carries
some long-term risk. One estimate is, a single whole
body radiation exposure of 10 mSv would represent a
risk of about 4 in 10,000 of developing a fatal cancer. A
linear model would predict that a worker who receives a
50-mSv exposure would have a risk of 20 in 10,000 of
developing a fatal cancer. A worker who receives a 1mSv exposure would have a risk of 0.4 in 10,000 of
developing a fatal cancer.
The calculated theoretical radiation risk should not be
taken as the only risk facing workers. Some potential
cancers are easily cured (i.e. thyroid) while other are incurable at the present time. The natural incidence
of cancer is approximately 30 percent; the incidence of fatal cancers is approximately 20 percent. The
United States cancer fatality rate is approximately, one in five persons (2,000 in 10,000) will die of cancer
induced from one of many possible environmental causes (smoking, food, alcohol, drugs, pollutants,
natural background radiation, inherited traits, etc.). Extrapolating the risk estimate with the natural
incidence for a group of 10,000 radiation workers, who each receive 10-mSv radiation exposure, 2,004
fatal cancers would be expected. The problem facing regulators is that the occupational radiation
cancers, if produced, are of such a low frequency that they are indistinguishable among the high
background rate of natural cancers.
To complicate matters even more, if the same total exposure is received over a longer period of time,
there is lower risk by one-half to one-quarter, than from a single exposure event.
The Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation committee V (BEIR V) suggested that the risk of cancer death
is 0.08 percent per 10 mSv for acute doses and might be 2 - 4 times less than that for chronic, low-level,
low Linear Energy Transfer doses. There is significant uncertainty associated with the estimate, because
these estimates are an average for all ages, sexes, and all forms of cancers. Other agencies have
suggested estimates that differ primarily because of the different assumptions and risk models used in the
calculation. Although the radiation effects from high radiation exposures are well known and
documented. There is no measurable increase found in the number of cancers or genetic effects in
persons occupationally exposed to the allowable limits for a life-time of radiation work.
Another way to look at radiation risk is to compare the projected average number of days of life
expectancy lost per 10-mSv (1-rem) exposure to other health risks. The average United States radiation
worker exposure in 1992 was 3 mSv (0.3 rem) and the University of Calgary worker average annual
exposure (of those who received an actual reportable dose) approximately 0.16 mSv in 2005. A 3 mSv
radiation exposure per year from age 18 to 65 would estimate a life expectancy loss of 15 days. Lost of
life expectancy and health risks are compared with other risks in Tables A and B below.

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Smoking 20 cigarettes a day
6 years
Overweight (by 15%)
2 years
Alcohol consumption (US)
1 year
Motor vehicle accidents
207 days
Home accidents
74 days
Natural disaster (earthquake, flood)
7 days
Medical diagnostic radiation
6 days
3 mSv per year from 18 to 65
15 days
10 mSv per year from 18 to 65
51 days


All industries
60 days
320 days
227 days
Mining / Quarrying
167 days
Transportation and Utilities
160 days
60 days
40 days
27 days
27 days

These are estimates taken from the NRC Draft Guide DG-8012, and were adapted from B.L. Cohen and I.S. Lee,
"Catalogue of Risks Extended and Updates", Health Physics, Vol. 61, September 1991.

Each individual must balance the risks with the benefits. The benefit is that countries can have a source
of power, or the ability to do scientific research, or receive medical treatments. The risks are a small
increase in cancer risk. Risk comparisons show that radiation is a small risk factor when compared to
everyday risks taken by individuals. Radiation has been studied for over 100 years. Radiation is not a
mysterious source of disease, but a well-understood phenomenon. Radiation is better understood than
almost any other cancer-causing agent to which humans are or can be exposed.

Radiation biology is the study of interactions between any type of radiation and living organisms or
organic materials. The energy absorption initiates the effects that are observed in living irradiated
systems. No effects are produced, if the radiation is transmitted, scattered or reflected, or if the energy is
otherwise not absorbed. Bioeffects are roughly proportional to the amount of absorbed energy.
When any agent (chemicals, radiation, excessive heat, etc.) damages a cellular component, a multitude
of measurable effects can result. The type of cell damage will depend upon what the specific agent is that
the cell is exposed to. Also, the amount of damage will be related to how much of the agent reaches that
particular kind of cell. The changes maybe initially restricted to either a single cell or a few types of cells.
Whole organs or organ systems may be affected in time due to the absence of a required function that
upsets the equilibrium or control of the whole-interrelated system. Any alteration of the genetic
information carried by the genes, or of the processes associated with mitosis can result in either a
permanent change in the nature of the cell (mutation), or in the cell's death.
Biological effects from radiation are produced as a result of the transfer of energy from the radiation to the
cells through ionization and excitation as described in the next section.

Initial Chemical Reaction

Radiation passing through living cells causes ionization or excitation of atoms and molecules contained in
the cell. Ionization and excitation occurs in any material. The human body is comprised of large amounts
of water. Water molecules are the most likely targets for being hit by photons or charged particles. The
reaction, which occurs when this happens, is the formation of an ion pair. The reaction is shown below.

Page 12 of 34

A positive ion (H2O+)

The H2O+ is rapidly hydrated to form:

The free electron will also react with a water molecule.

H2O+ + H2O --> H30+ + OH*

Here the OH* is a "free radical", a species
that contains an unpaired orbital electron,
and is a highly reactive chemically.

an electron (e-);


e- + H2O --> OH- + H*

After the electron slows down from bumping into other
water molecules to yield another free radical, this time

The overall reaction is:

H2O + e- --> OH* + H*
The products are separated by a considerable distance so that immediate back reactions to form water
are not favoured. Such radicals can combine with each other and with dissolved oxygen to give a variety
of potent oxidizing agents such as hydrogen peroxide, superoxide, molecular oxygen, and the perhydroxy
radical. Both the initial radicals and these products can migrate to biologically important molecules (like
DNA - the structural material of genes) and cause bond breakage and/or oxidation of attached groups.
The energy of the radiation is transferred to biologically significant molecules, changing their structure.
The energy-transfer is known as the INDIRECT EFFECT and can account for an appreciable fraction of
Additionally, to the indirect effect, radiation may itself cause ionization in DNA or other biological
molecules. The energy of ionization is far greater than the bond energy in organic molecules, thus
causing bond breakage. The amount of this DIRECT EFFECT occurring depends on the number of a
particular type of molecule in the cells, and its size. The larger a molecule is, the better target it makes.
Since DNA is the largest molecule in the cell as well as the site of all DNA information, its response has a
central role in the mediation of radiation effects. Depending on how it is damaged, different results may
occur. Cells have developed a sophisticated approach to the integration, of the initial sensing and
subsequent repair of DNA as a means of ensuring genomic stability. A double strand break may fail
resulting in cellular death if the inherent repair mechanisms can not repair the damage. A break in one of
the basepairs will transmit different genetic data during subsequent division resulting in some kind of a
mutation. Both direct and indirect effects contribute to the overall number of such damaging events to the
DNA and will vary for individual cell types.
Law of Bergonie and Tribondeau
Early observations show that changes in different types of cells to radiation or the radiosensitivity of a
particular cell depends on a number of factors. The "Law of Bergonie and Tribondeau" states "the
radiosensitivity of a tissue is directly proportional to the reproductive activity and inversely proportional to
the degree of differentiation". Tissues consisting of rapidly dividing stem cells (like blood or sperm cell
precursors) are quite sensitive to radiation whereas cells that do not divide or only rarely divide (like nerve
or muscle cells) are considerably more resistant. Microscopic examination shows that cells appear to be
stuck in the division process and never successfully complete division after radiation exposure, which is
consistent with the "Law" above. Other factors involved include metabolic rate, state of nourishment,
oxygen level, and presence of particular enzymes within the cell. The latter are most likely involved with
repair of radiation damage.
The most radiation-sensitive state of any individual is during embryonic development. Humans are most
radiosensitive during the first sixteen weeks of gestation. Radiation sensitivity is due to the presence of
only a few cells at this stage of gestation, which will ultimately develop into a particular tissue or organ.
Cells damaged at this stage of development cannot be replaced or regenerated.

Page 13 of 34

Dose-response Relationships
The biological effects are due to the formation of ions in the cellular materials, which make up the body's
tissues. Energy is transferred from the radiation to the material, and the absorbed dose is the amount of
energy absorbed per unit mass of the material. The basic assumption in radiation protection is that the
harmful effects of ionizing radiation are related to the absorbed dose. One of the questions that is often
asked is whether the effect of low-level ionizing radiation is cumulative or whether it is harmful only if it
exceeds some threshold value.
Most of the evidence now appears
to indicate that there are effects of
both kinds. Some effects, such as
cataracts, do not occur below a
certain threshold level of radiation.
Others, effects, the induction of
cancer, do not appear to have any
threshold and the risk of inducing
such an effect increases with
increasing dose. See figures a)
dose response and stochastic
effects b) dose response and
deterministic effects.
Stochastic Effects
Stochastic effects are health effects that occur randomly. The probability of the effect occurring, rather
than the severity, is assumed to be a linear function of the radiation dose received. There is no evidence
of a threshold dose, such as the induction of cancer, it is known that if a group of people are exposed to
radiation then a certain fraction will show the effect, for example develop cancer. The severity of the
cancer does not depend on the radiation dose. There is no way at present of predicting which individuals
will be affected. Any individual, who is exposed to radiation, can be thought of as an increased probability
that cancer will occur. For example, the likelihood of developing cancer increases with increased
exposure to ionizing radiation. These effects are called stochastic and it is assumed for protection
purposes that the risk of stochastic effects from exposure to radiation depends directly on the absorbed
Deterministic Effects
The term deterministic is used to describe effects in an individual; the severity of the effects depends on
the ionizing radiation dose. For deterministic effects to be seen there is a threshold level radiation dose.
Examples of deterministic effects are cataracts, skin damage, depression of red blood cell formation, and
decreased fertility. Skin damage, similar to a burn, for example does not occur in any individuals as a
consequence of radiation exposure except for rather large doses and the larger the dose above the
threshold the greater the damage to the individual. Radiation exposures sufficiently high to produce most
deterministic effects are not very likely at the University of Calgary except possibly in case of an accident.
Genetic Effects
Stochastic effects are genetic effects which show up in the children of a parent who has been exposed to
radiation before the children were conceived. These effects should not be confused with the possible
harmful effects due to exposure of the mother during pregnancy.
The estimates of genetic risk to humans is based entirely on animal studies since no genetic effects due
to radiation exposure have ever been demonstrated in human populations. It does not mean that genetic
effects do not exist, but rather genetic effects are small and difficult to find. The difficulty with identifying
radiation induced inherited abnormalities in the human population is that the normal incidence of such
abnormalities is quite high. Most of the information on the normal incidence of inherited disorders comes

Page 14 of 34

from epidemiological studies done in British Columbia and Northern Ireland. The population survey in
British Columbia reported that at least 9% of all live born humans would be seriously handicapped at
some time during their lifetimes due to genetic disorders.


Two radiation exposure categories that are of concern are external exposures and internal exposures.
External exposures result from radiation sources, which are located outside of the body. Internal
exposures result from radiation sources, which have been internalized or are located inside the body.
Internal exposures have the potential of being much more significant from a biological point of view than
external exposure.
Time, distance, shielding, and identification are four basic radiation protection principles that MUST be
used to minimize external radiation exposures.
Time - Radiation doses are directly proportional to the time spent in the radiation field.
The workers dose is halved, when the time spent in a given radiation field is halved.
Preplan the procedures to reduce the time in an exposure field.
Develop a detailed plan for carrying out the steps before beginning any new procedures.
Complete as much preparation work as possible before incorporating any radioactive materials are
into the experimental procedures
Practice the techniques required for the procedure to reduce the time of exposure.
Prior to beginning the procedure organize and have readily available all the necessary materials,
tools, and equipment
Distance Radiation doses are inversely proportional to the distance squared
The amount of exposure received will be
reduced by, increasing the distance from a
radiation source.
Remote handling devices (manipulators)
typically the use of forceps, tongs, or
tweezers can greatly reduce the exposure to
hands or extremities
Do not work directly over open containers of
radioactive materials
Practical methods for maximizing distance
from radiation sources include
1. Positioning the major portion of your
body, including the head, as far as
possible from radiation sources while working.
2. Work at arms length from radiation sources.
3. Use tools (forceps, tongs) to handle primary vials and other sources, whenever possible
Shielding Radiation doses can be greatly reduced by the use of the appropriate type of shields
Store and work with high energy beta emitters like 32-P behind Lucite shielding.
Keep gamma emitters behind lead shielding. Ensure that all surfaces of the shielding containers (top,
bottom, front, back, & sides) are appropriate.
Do not assume that the floor or a wall is adequate shielding. Personnel working in adjacent spaces
may receive unnecessary and/or unmonitored exposures due to inadequate shielding.
Radioactive material and samples when not in use shall be returned to appropriate shielded storage
Use beta shields on pipettes for hand protection.
Wear plastic safety eyewear to protect the cornea of your eye from beta radiation.

Page 15 of 34

When loading or removing samples from 96 Well Plates, place a piece of Lucite on the wellplate to
shield the beta radiation

Identification Knowing the type and energy of the emitter will determine the appropriate type of
shielding, the assay method, and technological advances for the procedure being completed.
Isotopic Substitution Can a less energetic nuclide be substituted? For example P-33 can be
substituted for P-32 with a significant reduction in the energy of the beta emission, from 1710 keV to
265 keV.
Non-radioactive techniques Can a non-radioactive assay or labelling technique get the desired
result with the same sensitivity?
Technology advances are making certain procedures obsolete, from a radiation safety perspective.
(Hybridization ovens have almost replaced hybridization bags and bag sealers, which were a major
source of personal contaminations in the past.)
CONTAMINATION CONTROL (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) ALARA
The ALARA principle is a concept to reduce exposures to radioactive materials and exposure fields. The
state of technology, the economics of equipment improvements in relations to benefits of the health and
safety of the workers and the public are taken into account. It is a prudent practice to make every
reasonable effort to reduce radiation exposures, remove all contamination if possible, and to prevent
releases of radioactive materials to unrestricted areas.
Radioactive material located inside the body may result in an internal radiation dose. Internal doses are
hazardous and more difficult to detect and quantify than external doses. Therefore, significant emphasis
is placed upon preventing the internalization of contamination.
What is radioactive contamination?
Radioactive contamination refers to the presence of radioactive material in areas or on surfaces where it
is not desired. Radioactive contamination is actual physical material that typically cannot be seen, but can
be transferred from one surface to another through contact. Radioactive contamination can be airborne,
or deposited directly on surfaces. Contamination on surfaces can be either loose (removable) or fixed
(non-removable). Loose surface contamination" can be described as contamination that is easily
removed from a surface. Loose contamination can be easily spread to other surfaces through contact.
Fixed surface contamination remains adhered or stuck to surfaces and are not further reduced using
normal decontamination techniques such as wiping or scrubbing. Areas with non-removable radioactive
contamination will generally be controlled because of the radiation levels produced by the contamination.
Potential Routes of Intake
The following are four potential routes of intake: absorption, ingestion, inhalation, and wounds
Absorption - Absorption takes place when direct skin contact is made with a contaminated surface or
when skin is exposed to airborne contamination. Absorption is a common route for H-3 intake, since
the molecule is so small. Absorption through the skin is the most common route of intake at the
University of Calgary or any University research facility.
Inhalation - The leading means of inhalation is through the use of volatile substances outside of the
fumehood. Tritiated, some Sulfur and Iodine compounds can have significant volatile byproducts of
decomposition present in the vial, always break the seal of the vial in the fumehood. However, resuspension of loose surface contamination can also result in inhalation; however, this is rare and
requires vigorous scrubbing of a dry surface with contamination. The use and replacement of
benchkote will greatly reduce the potential of re-suspension of loose contamination.
Ingestion Ingestion is the accidental consumption of contaminated food or liquids. A potential
intake can occur because of nervous habits like nail biting, chewing on pens, or rubbing your face.

Page 16 of 34

Wounds The accidental injection of radioactive materials with needles or sharps is remotely
possible. When you are working with animals ensure that you have appropriate protective equipment
to prevent scratches and bites which will possibly inject radioactive materials under the skin.

Steps to Control Contamination

1. Define and label the work area.
a) All radioactive work areas must be identified with radioactive warning tape on all four sides, on
the front of the bench, both sides and across the back.
b) The radioactive work area should be a bench area that is away from high traffic areas and away
from desk areas.
c) Bench areas next to the fumehood should be used if part of a procedure incorporates the use of
the fumehood, or has the potential to generate volatile gases or compounds.
d) Radioactive work areas must be kept as small as possible, while still allowing sufficient room to
carry out procedures.
e) The warning tape must be visible and shall fully enclose the radioactive work area.
f) Radioactive work areas and waste trays are required to be covered with appropriate
ABSORBENT bench top covering. The absorbent side shall be facing up.
g) With daily use, the covering should be changed, as a minimum, weekly.
h) When working with radioactive liquids, if a spill was to occur would the bench cover absorb the
spill, if not work in a spill tray.
i) Sinks used for radioactive work or the cleaning of contaminated glassware should be located in or
near radioactive work areas. One sink should be labelled for radioactive work.
j) Warning tape shall completely enclose the designated sink.
2. Label equipment.
a) Large equipment (waterbaths, centrifuges, incubators, etc.) used in conjunction with
radioisotopes must be labelled with warning tape.
b) Small equipment (micropipettes, glassware, pencils etc.) within radioactive work areas must be
labelled with warning tape.
c) Equipment and glassware are required to be dedicated to radioactive work.
d) Decontaminate and monitor for contamination before removing any items from a radioactive work
3. Use personal protective equipment.
a) Gloves Protect your hands by double gloving, if you contaminate a glove you can remove the
glove and continue with the experiment.
b) Laboratory coats Protect your clothes from contamination.
c) Appropriate clothing Wear appropriate clothing. Pants, which cover your legs, will provide
additional protection if a spill occurs. No shorts!
d) Shoes Shoes must cover your feet completely. Sandals, thongs, or clogs do not offer
appropriate protection in the event of a spill.
e) Fumehood A fumehood prevents airborne contaminates from being inhaled by redirecting or
drawing the contaminates away from your breathing zone. Fumehoods are to be used with all
volatile radioisotopes like iodine, some sulfur compounds and tritium labelled organic solutions.
4. Perform a dry run.
a) Perform a dry run before beginning any new procedures.
b) A dry run will identify any missing equipment, improper layout, and potential spill problems.
c) Areas to minimize exposure will be identified by performing a dry run.
d) Have a copy of the protocol available as a reference, but ensure that it cannot become
5. Perform procedure using good work practices.
a) Complete the protocol as intended, DO NOT USE shortcuts or changes the order of the
b) NEVER mouth pipette radioactive solutions.

Page 17 of 34

6. Use appropriate housekeeping practices.

a) Ensure that all radioactive materials are stored properly, upon completion of all radioactive work.
b) Ensure that containers are labelled with the following: radioactive warning tape, isotope, activity,
date, name of person whose is responsible for the material, and record the storage location on
the inventory sheet.
c) Dispose all wastes into the appropriate waste containers.
d) Record the amount of radioactive materials used on the inventory sheet.
e) Record the amount and location of radioactive waste on the inventory sheet.
f) Swipe check all work surfaces and equipment used during the radioactive procedure, if
contamination is found decontaminate as required and re-swipe check.
g) Monitor your hands, arms, feet, and labcoat when your procedure is completed or if
contamination is suspected.
h) Remove labcoat and wash hands when your work is complete to remove any possible
contaminates, prior to leaving the laboratory.
Internal Dose Reduction
The equivalent dose received, as a result of an internal uptake of radioactive material is proportional to
the effective half-life. Although the physical half-life component is unalterable, in some cases the
biological half-life can be reduced. Isotopic dilution, metabolism stimulation, and chelation therapy are
techniques, which have proven effective in reducing the biological impacts of internalized radioisotopes.
These treatments must be supervised by a physican specializing in Health Physics.
Isotopic dilution floods the area of concern with the stable form of that same material. Metabolic
stimulation refers to the speeding up of normal body process with the intent of causing the internally
deposited compounds which contain radionuclides to eliminated from the body more rapidly. Chelation
therapy involves the administering of a chelating agent, which is a chemical compound that will bind metal
ions into a soluble complex, which can be excreted through the kidneys.

Page 18 of 34

Radiation Safety monitors a radiation worker's external radiation exposure with a personal dosimeter
badge. These devices store the radiation energy over a specified period of time. There are several types
of dosimeters (wrist, ring, and whole body) used at the University of Calgary.
The dosimeter badge (at right) used at the University of Calgary has Aluminum
oxide chips to record the exposure to ionizing radiation. Unlike active detectors,
this dosimeter has no display or readout. Radiation workers wear the dosimeter
for a given period (monthly or quarterly) and return the dosimeter to EH&S for
processing by Landauer. Therefore, the worker learns of their radiation
exposure only several weeks after it has occurred. Dose estimate reports are
sent to workers who actually received a dose on the Dosimeter badge.
The CNSC requires personnel monitoring for all workers likely receive in excess of 10 percent of the one
year dose limit. Individuals are required to wear Dosimeter badges when handling or using any
radioactive material which decays by beta emission with a maximum energy of emission above 200 keV.
The Dosimeter badge will not register exposure to beta radiation with energy less than 150 keV.
Extremity dosimeter badges are used to monitor exposure to a worker's hands and fingers. The extremity
dosimeter badges are ring badges with a single TLD chip. Radiation workers who have been issued a
dosimeter badge to monitor radiation exposure should follow a few simple rules to insure that the
dosimeter accurately records radiation exposure.

Wear only your assigned dosimeter badge.

Never wear another workers dosimeter badge.
Wear your whole body dosimeter badge between your collar and waist.
Wear your ring badge underneath your gloves with the label of the Ring on
the palm side of the hand, the surfaces that handles the radiation sources.
Place your dosimeter badge inside your apron, when it is necessary to wear a
lead apron.
Do not store your dosimeter badge near radiation sources or heat sources.
Store your dosimeter badge on the badge board when the dosimeter badge is
not in use.
Do not leave your badge attached to your lab coat (when not wearing your lab coat).
If contamination on your dosimeter badge is suspected, telephone EH&S at 220-5333 immediately.
Never intentionally expose your badge to any radiation.
Do not wear dosimeter badge when receiving medical radiation exposure (e.g., x-rays, nuclear
medicine treatments, etc.).
Return the dosimeter badge to the dosimeter badge coordinator for exchange at the end of the
wearing period. The laboratory is responsible for any lost or missing dosimeter badges.


Whole Body Dosimeter
The whole body dosimeter is worn on the upper torso between the neck and the waist; usually people clip
the dosimeter to the labcoat breast pocket. The whole body dosimeters are exchanged every three
Extremity Dosimeters - Ring Dosimeters:
Thermoluminescent dosimeters in the form of finger rings are worn on the NON-dominant hand index or
middle finger inside gloves to monitor hand exposure to radioactive materials. It is important to ensure

Page 19 of 34

that the chip is facing the inside of the hand prior to handling radioactive materials. The dosimeters are
exchanged every month due to the higher potential for exposures experienced by the hands.
Extremity Dosimeters - Wrist Dosimeters:
Thermoluminescent dosimeters in the form of dosimeter with a wrist strap are worn on the dominant hand
to monitor extremity exposure to radioactive materials. The dosimeter badge holder must face the source
of radiation. It important to ensure the holder is in place prior to using radioactive materials. The
dosimeters are exchanged every three months.
Distribution of dosimeter badges
Dosimeters are issued by EH&S, based on procedures used and the type of equipment used.
Badges are exchanged monthly, or quarterly, depending upon the type of dosimeter.
Dosimeter (TLD) Exposure Determination
The dosimeters containing Aluminum oxide (Al2O3) are used as a personnel monitor. Exposure of these
materials to ionizing radiation results in the storage of the radiation energy. The energy is transferred to
the electron structure of the Aluminum oxide which traps the electrons in higher energy state.
The amount of radiation exposure is measured by stimulating the Al2O3 material with green light from
either a laser or light emitting diode source. The resulting blue light emitted from the Al2O3 is proportional
to the amount of radiation exposure. Both high and low-energy photons and beta particles can be
measured with this technique.
The amount of light released is measured and is proportional to the exposure of the dosimeter to
radiation. These materials are x-ray, beta, and gamma sensitive and exposure is reported as being either
shallow energy penetration or whole body organ dose.
Dosimetry Records
Dosimetry records are maintained for active workers by EH&S. Dose estimate reports are sent to
individuals who receive an exposure on their dosimeter badge. The Radiation Safety Officer will notify
individuals of high exposure readings and will investigate the cause, if at any time your exposure exceeds
the CNSC guidelines or is unusually high.
Putting Your Dose Estimates in Perspective
Radiation Protection Branch of Health Canada
Occupational Doses
To help put the numerical dose estimates listed in your exposure reports in perspective, the table below
contains some representative dose values to which can be used as a comparison.
Background Doses
The average Canadian receives approximately 2.0 mSv per year from natural background radiation. This
exposure is made up of 0.3 mSv from cosmic radiation from space, 0.35 mSv from terrestrial gamma
radiation from the soil beneath our feet, 0.35 mSv from natural radionuclides that are incorporated into
our bodies, and 1.0 mSv from radon gases in the air we breathe.
Cosmic ray doses received by airline passengers vary with flight duration, altitude and latitude, as well as
solar activity. A typical radiation dose received from a trip from Toronto to Vancouver is 0.04 mSv. Annual
doses to flight crewmembers on this route have been estimated to be in the 5.0 mSv per year range.

Page 20 of 34

Average Diagnostic Radiation Doses

Doses to patients receiving diagnostic x-rays can range from about 0.10 mSv for a chest x-ray to 5.4 mSv
for a barium enema and 7.0 mSv for a CT bodyscan. In Canada, the annual average effective dose per
person (total effective dose from medical procedures divided by total population) has been found to be
0.94 mSv for x-ray procedures and 0.16 mSv from diagnostic nuclear medicine procedures.
The various radiation exposures discussed differ in terms of who benefits and how much choice we have
about the exposures. While, in principle, we could all choose to live on coastal plains, where natural
background radiation levels are at a minimum, in practice we tend to consider natural background as not
being under our control. On the other hand, we view artificial radiation sources as entirely under our
control and we have a right to expect that there is a benefit from such exposures that will not cause any
detrimental effects.
In the case of medical exposures, the benefit should accrue directly to the exposed individual; e.g., a
patient should expect improved diagnosis and medical care to result from an x-ray, or that a cancer will
be cured and the patient's life extended via radiation therapy. In the case of diagnostic procedures, there
is an ongoing effort to minimize patient dose while maintaining the quality of the diagnostic information, in
other words, to maximize the ratio of benefit to risk.
With occupational exposures, the associated benefits don't go to the exposed individuals. Instead, there
is either a societal benefit, e.g., clean electrical power from nuclear generating stations or improved safety
due to radiographic inspections of welds, or there is a benefit to specific groups of individuals, e.g., doses
received by nuclear medicine technicians benefit the patients. There are ongoing efforts to improve the
ways we use radiation so that occupational doses are minimized and the benefit-to-risk ratio is maximized
for individuals and society.
Selected occupational groups in Canada received radiation doses during 1995 as shown in the following
Job Category
Office Staff
Industrial Radiographer
Lab Technician (Industrial)
Scientist/Engineer (Lab)
Dental Assistant
Lab Technician (Medical)
Medical Radiation Technologist
Nuclear Medicine Technologist
Diagnostic Radiologist

below Report Threshold

(Note 1)

Average Reported Doses

(Note 2)
0.49 mSv
5.23 mSv
0.78 mSv
0.46 mSv
0.56 mSv
0.48 mSv
0.43 mSv
0.49 mSv
1.64 mSv
0.42 mSv
0.61 mSv
0.40 mSv

Range of Maximum
Doses(Note 3)
2 - 5 mSv
20 - 50 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
20 - 50 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
2 - 5 mSv
5 - 20 mSv
5 - 20 mSv

Note 1: For example, 98.3% of dentists had exposures below the report threshold of 0.2 mSv.
Note 2: For example, the remaining 1.7% of dentists had an average of 0.48 mSv reported.
Note 3: For details, please obtain a copy of the source document identified below.

Page 21 of 34


Radiation is detected using instrumentation, which measure the amount or number of ionizations or
excitation events that occur within the detector's sensitive volume. A radiation detection system can be
either passive or active, depending upon the device and the mechanism. Passive devices are usually
processed at a special processing facility before the amount of radiation exposure can be reported.
Examples of passive devices are Thermoluminescent Dosimeters (TLDs) used in determining individual
radiation exposure. Active devices provide an immediate indication of the amount of radiation or
radioactivity present and consist primarily of portable radiation survey meters and laboratory sample
counting devices.
Gas-Filled Radiation Detectors
Schematic at right illustrates the basic principle used by
portable radiation survey instruments for the detection and
measurement of ionizing radiation. The Geiger-Meller detector
is a gas-filled, cylindrical tube with a long central wire that has a
900-volt positive charge applied to it and is then connected,
through a meter, to the walls of the tube. Radiation enters the
sensitive volume of the detector and produces ions in the gas.
The electron part of the ion pair is attracted to the positively
charged central wire where it enters the electric circuit. The
meter then shows this flow of electrons (i.e., the number of
ionizing events) in counts per minute (cpm).
The only requirement for radiation detection by this type of detector is that the radiation must have
enough energy to penetrate the walls of the detector tube and create ion pairs in the gas. Particulate
(alpha and beta) radiations have limited ranges in solid materials. Radiation detectors designed for these
radiations must be constructed with thin walls that allow the radiation to penetrate. The most common
types of gas-filled radiation survey meters are ion chamber, (gas-flow) proportional and Geiger-Meller
(GM) detectors.
a) Ion Chamber Survey Meters
Ion chamber survey meters are radiation
detection devices designed to collect all of the
ion pairs produced in the detector tube and
then measure the current flow. These meters
are primarily used to measure gamma or x-ray
exposure in air and the readings are usually
expressed as milliRoentgen per hour (mR/hr)
or Roentgen per hour (R/hr). Because research
labs use only small quantities of predominantly
beta emitters, they do not use ion chamber
survey meters. Ion chamber are the most often used for measuring gamma and x-ray exposure, because
the system is stable to within plus-or-minus 0.1% over several years, it is used to reliably measure
calibration sources.
b) Geiger- Meller (GM) Contamination Monitor
A Geiger-Mueller detector is characterized by the fact that almost all radiation incidents on the sensitive
volume are detected. Any incident particle that ionizes at least one molecule of the gas will institute a
succession of ionizations and discharges in the counter that causes the central wire to collect a multitude

Page 22 of 34

of additional electrons. This tremendous avalanche of charge (about 109 electrons) produces a signal of
about 1-volt.
Ionizing radiation enters the chamber and strikes a filling gas molecule or gamma and x-ray photons
interact with the wall material, kicking electrons into the gas to cause secondary ionization. Ion pairs
produced accelerate toward their respective electrodes due to high voltage potential. Secondary ions are
produced due to the rapid movement of the initial ion pair towards the electrodes so the entire sensitive
volume of the tube is ionized (Townsend avalanche). The ions reaching electrodes are neutralized and
produce the voltage pulse, which will be measured by the electronic processing unit.
GM systems are pulse counters but, are independent of the energy of incident radiation and are relatively
independent of applied voltage. However, because of this characteristic, a GM tube tells nothing about
the energy of the radiation. GM systems are primarily used as contamination meters because of their high
sensitivity. Although practically every Beta particle that reaches the counter gas will cause a discharge
and produce a count, because gamma photons are less densely ionizing only a small fraction of the
gamma will interact with the walls and a much smaller fraction interacts with the gas.
The production, collection and neutralization of the ion pairs require time. This time period is called the
instrument's resolving time and is the time required to attain the ion field and collect it. During this period,
the GM is incapable of responding fully to a second radiation interaction. This resolving time is the sum of
two other time elements. The dead Time is the time required for the positive ions created by the
Townsend avalanche to move to the anode to be neutralized. The recovery time is the time interval
between dead time and full recovery. During the recovery phase, an output pulse from ion avalanche is
not large enough to pass the meter's discriminator and be counted. Thus, the resolving time is the
minimum time that must elapse after detection before a second event can be detected. For GM tubes it is
generally about 10 - 1000 microseconds.
A potential problem of older GM systems related to resolving time is saturation. This may occur to a tube
exposed to a high radiation field. In such fields, the ionizing events are interacting with the gas in the GM
tube with an average separation in time much shorter than the meter's dead time. If a new ionizing event
occurs in the sensitive volume when the tube still has not fully recovered, a pulse much smaller than
normal (or none at all) is produced. In saturation, the instrument will show a momentary upswing of the
meter needle followed by a return of the needle to a point near zero. Thus, the meter can be indicating
background when the operator is in an extremely hazardous radiation field. This is why it's important to
turn your meter on before entering a potentially high radiation field. Most new GM systems, when
saturated, will fail upscale so the operator will know there is a high field.
The gas in a GM tube is usually argon or helium and is kept at less than atmospheric pressure.
Decreased pressure is used so excessively high voltages (and risk of saturation) are not required. A
quenching gas is used to stop the Townsend avalanche effect by absorbing the characteristic x-rays
produced by the filling gas when the positive ions reach the cathode.
Thin-window detectors are either pancake or end-window variety. The window is usually a very thin (e.g.,
1.5 - 4 mg/cm2) sheet of mica or Mylar. This allows for the penetration of both alpha and Beta particulate
radiation. Normally, the pancake probe is a little more sensitive than an end-window probe, especially for
low energy radiation. The reason is that in end-window detectors, there is usually a small dead space just
behind the window where the local electric field of the central wire is too small to attract the electrons so
ion pairs recombine. The pancake probe has several circular electrodes so the electric field is relatively
Beta particles that enter the sensitive volume will be counted. The wide range of beta energies results in
a wide range of efficiencies for the same sample geometry. Obviously, higher energy beta particles will
have greater range so source absorption and absorption by the GM window will be less, and the
efficiency higher.

Page 23 of 34

In summary, GM survey meters are radiation detectors used to detect radiation or to monitor for
radioactive contamination. These detectors may have a variety of window thicknesses, however, if the
radiation cannot penetrate the window it will not be detected. Radioactive materials that emit these types
of radiation (e.g., C-14, Na-22, P-32, S-35, and Cs-137) can usually be detected using GM survey
meters. GM meters at the University are usually read in units of counts per minute (cpm) for particle
c) Scintillation Detectors
Scintillation is a process by which energy deposited by ionizing radiation is absorbed and converted to
light photons. There are many types of scintillators including organic crystal scintillators (e.g.,
anthracene), organic liquid (LSC) or solid scintillators, inorganic crystal scintillators (e.g., Nal (Tl), GeLi),
and noble gas scintillators (e.g., xenon, helium). Scintillation detectors are superior to gas filled detectors
because the number of light photons produced is proportional to the energy absorbed in the scintillator.
The purpose of the scintillation crystal is to stop the incident photon and convert the radiation energy into
visible light. While incident photons can interact with the crystal by photoelectric, Compton, or by pair
production, photoelectric interactions are preferred because the photon loses all of its energy in one
interaction, hence the light produced in the scintillator will be proportional to the energy of the photon.
Other interactions may result in only partial energy absorption (e.g., several Compton interactions,
followed by a photoelectric interaction). The energized electrons are ejected from the regions in the
crystal, which they had occupied and travel a short distance transferring energy to other electrons along
the way.
Sodium iodide (NaI) by itself does not produce much light in a pure NaI crystal the electrons move around
and the energy transferred appears in the form of heat. Therefore, NaI crystals are purposely flawed with
thallium (Tl) ions, which initially trap the energized electrons and subsequently increase light output, by a
factor of ten at room temperature. The NaI (TI) crystal is hydroscopic, so it is placed in a hermetically
sealed container. If the crystal were left unsealed, it would dissolve in about one week. The excess
energy of the thallium-trapped electrons is released as light photons in the 3 eV energy range.
Approximately thirty light photons, each of 3 eV is produced per keV of energy transferred to the crystal.
The crystal is transparent to light photons with energies around 3 eV so these light photons pass freely
through the crystal. The photocathode is selected to be maximally sensitive to light at frequencies of 410
Just as with air filled detectors, it takes time for the photon to be absorbed, the electrons to de-excite and
give off the light photons. For NaI (TI) this dead time is approximately 0.25 microseconds. For best
results, do not count samples with activities greater than 2 MBq (~54uCi).
The photomultiplier tube then takes a pulse of light and converts it
into a pulse of electrons and amplifies the pulse of electrons into a
measurable electric current. The photocathode is a thin, semitransparent layer on the inside of the tube that is facing the crystal
and is a substance which will emit electrons when exposed to
visible light. Cesium- antimony (CsSb) is the most common material
used for NaI (Tl) crystals. Light photons from the crystal interact
with electrons in the photocathode causing the electrons to be
ejected from their orbits as photoelectrons. The number of electrons
removed from the photocathode is proportional to the energy
deposited in the crystal by a gamma photon. These photoelectrons,
with the aid of a focusing grid, will go to the first dynode. A dynode
is an electronic device, which acts alternately as an anode and as a
cathode. Seven to thirteen metal electrodes coated with a material
similar to the photocathode are arranged in a special geometric
pattern such that each succeeding dynode will have more positive
voltage applied to it than the one before. Each photoelectron strikes the dynode and dislodges several

Page 24 of 34

secondary electrons from its surface. These secondary electrons are in turn accelerated toward the
second dynode, the process continues through the dynode chain where at each stage, a variable number
of secondary electrons, averaging between 2 and 4 are released for each incident electron. The overall
"gain" ranging from 100,000 to 100,000,000 electrons produced per photoelectron. The anode is the last
dynode of the tube. The photoelectrons are collected here and then flow through a load resistor to form a
voltage pulse, which is the output signal from the PM tube. This output signal will be in the millivolt range.
When the signal leaves the preamp, the signal is proportional to the energy deposited in the crystal.
Finally, the signal is sent through a pulse height analyzer which, quantitatively measures the maximum
amplitude reached during an electrical impulse and records the accepted pulses as counts.
On campus several types of scintillation counters are normally used, low energy gamma survey meters,
liquid scintillation counters (LSC), and gamma counters.
Survey meters are radiation detection systems used to monitor radionuclides that emit low energy gamma
radiation (e.g., Cr-51, I-125). They can not detect alpha particles nor low energy beta particles. They can
detect radionuclides that emit high-energy gamma (Na-22) and/or high-energy beta (e.g., P-32 however
pancake type GM detectors are normally more efficient) radiation. The meter is usually read in counts per
Liquid scintillation counting is a method of assaying a radioactive sample by dissolving it in a chemical
solution called scintillation fluid or cocktail. When alpha or beta radiation energy is absorbed in the
cocktail, it emits light. The light flashes are converted to electrical signals in the photomultiplier tube
(PMT) and the electrical signals are related to the absorbed energy allowing the sample to be quantified.
Liquid scintillation counters (LSC) are usually used to quantify radioactivity and to measure removable
radioactive contamination. They are ideal for counting radionuclides that decay by alpha and beta particle
emission (e.g., H-3, C-14, P-32, etc.) and may also be used to measure some gamma emitters (e.g., I125, Cr-51) which emit auger electrons as part of their decay.
Radiation Detection and Measurement Techniques
Radioactive materials pose a potential long term risk to users. All personnel who work with radioactive
materials must understand how to use the various types of radiation detectors. This is to verify that their
work areas are free of contamination. To detect and measure radiation, a worker must understand how a
detector works and then how to use the detector in the work place.
a) Portable Survey Meter External Controls
All portable survey meters have certain components in common.

The detector (or probe) produces electrical signals when exposed to

radiation. It usually has a window through which the radiation can penetrate
its cavity.
The dial (or readout) is a meter, which indicates the amount of detected
radiation present. It may have two scales, mR/hr and/or cpm, at the
University, only the cpm scale is used.
The selector switch is used to turn the meter On-Off, check batteries, or
select a scale (range) multiplier. The scale multiplier is the number (e.g.,
0.1, 1.0, 10, etc.) by which the dial readings must be multiplied to calculate
the number of counts per minute.
The reset button allows the meter reading to be zeroed. When the radiation
level causes the number of counts per minute (cpm) to exceed the highest
reading on a particular scale, switch the scale multiplier to a higher range,
and push the reset button. This causes the readout needle to reset to zero
so the user can accurately determine count rate.

Page 25 of 34

The response button adjusts the response time of the meter. When this switch is pushed towards the
meter (fast), the meter will have a fast response but the dial needle will be less stable (i.e., rapid and
great fluctuations). For slow response times, the readout's needle is slow to move, but changes are
not as erratic.
The speaker is an audible device connected to the radiation monitor. The speaker is in-line with the
detector so each count produces an audible click on the speaker.

b) Radiation Survey Meter Operating Procedures

Read the following instructions to become familiar with the controls and operating characteristics.

Check the meter for physical damage.

Meters are required to be calibrated at least once a year.
Check the batteries.
Turn selector switch to the BAT position.
The readout's needle must move into the BATT OK range. If not, the batteries are weak and must be
Turn off the meter and speaker when not in use. When storing the survey meter for extended periods,
remove the batteries.
Check the detector response.
Determine the background count-rate. With the meter turned on and the selector switch on its lowest
scale, point the detector away from any radiation fields and measure the background count-rate. Note
that the meter reading must be multiplied by the selector switch scale (e.g., x 0.1, x 1, x 10, etc.). This
result is the background reading. Normal background for thin-window GM meters is between 20 - 40
cpm and is about 200 - 350 cpm for Scintillation meters.
With speaker on, point the probe window at the area or equipment you wish to monitor for radiation or
radioactive contamination. Unless contamination is expected, place the selector switch on the lowest
When surveying or entering contaminated areas with unknown radiation levels, turn the meter on
outside the area, place the selector switch on the highest range setting and adjust the switch
downward to the appropriate scale. Multiply the meter reading by the switch setting.

c) Procedures for performing these surveys

Identify the areas where radioactive material is used and/or stored.

Document survey locations in a contamination logbook.
Contamination logbooks should include a floor plan of the room and a listing of the areas.
Follow the Operating Procedures for Radiation contamination Meters.
Hold the window of the probe within 1 cm of the area or equipment you wish to monitor. Pay special
attention to telephones, logbooks, instrument handle(s) and computer keyboards (all of which should
remain contamination free).
Record all information on the survey form, including:
Date survey is performed
Background radiation count rate
Initials of the person conducting the survey
Meter information (make, model, type, and serial number)
Slowly move the detector over each the designated area.
With speaker on, move detector about 5 centimeters per second, listening to the speaker s clicking.
Make sure you do not contaminate the probe, use care to prevent contamination.
Turn the meter off when completed or when the meter is not in use.
Areas or locations with meter count rates exceeding 200 cpm above background must be further
investigated (e.g., decontaminated, shielded, etc.). If the exposure is due to radioactive
contamination, the contamination must be cleaned and the successful decontamination must be
documented and verified using swipe checks.

Page 26 of 34

Liquid Scintillation Counting (LSC)

Liquid scintillation counting is an analytical technique, which is defined by the incorporation of the
radioactive (radiolabelled) sample into uniform distribution within a liquid medium capable of converting
the kinetic energy of the nuclear emissions into light photons. Although the liquid scintillation counter is a
sophisticated laboratory counting system used to quantify the activity of radioisotopes emitting alpha, beta
and gamma radiation. The steps can be broken down into relatively simple processes.
a) Liquid Scintillation Principles
The Figure provides a graphic
illustration of the way the emitted
radiation (for example a particle) interacts with the liquid
scintillation cocktail (a solvent
and a scintillator) leading to a
flash of light (photon) being
recorded by the Photomultiplier tube (PMT) and the system converts that information into numerical value
(cpm) on a display or printout.
Beta particle emitted as part of the radioactive decay process. To assure efficient transfer of energy
between the beta particle and the cocktail, the cocktail must be a solvent for the sample material.
In the liquid, the beta particle only travels a short distance before all of its kinetic energy is dissipated
or transferred to the solvent. Typically a beta particle will take a few nanoseconds to dissipate all its
Energy of the excited solvent is emitted as UV light and
the solvent molecule returns to ground state. The excited
solvent molecules can transfer energy to each other and
to the solute (Figure below). The solute is a Fluor. An
excited solvent molecule, which passes its energy to a
solute molecule, disturbs the orbital electron cloud of the
solute raising it to a state of excitation. As the excited
orbital electrons of the solute molecule return to the
ground state, a radiation results, in this case a photon of
UV light. The UV light is absorbed by Fluor molecules
which emit blue light flashes upon return to ground state.
Nuclear decay events produce approximately 10 photons
per keV of energy. The energy is dissipated in
approximately 5 10 nanoseconds. The total number of
photons from the excited Fluor molecules constitutes the scintillation. The intensity of light in the
scintillation is proportional to the beta particle's initial energy.
Blue light flashes hit the photocathode of the PMT. Electrons (proportional in number to the blue light
pulses) are ejected producing an electrical pulse that is proportional to the number of blue light
photons. A LSC normally has two PMT's. The signal from each PMT is fed into a circuit which
measures the amplitude of the pulses from each PMT; an output is obtained which is proportional to
the total intensity of the scintillation process.
The amplitude of the electrical pulse is converted into a digital value and the digital value, which
represents the beta particle energy, passes into the analyzer where it is compared to digital values for
each of the LSC's channels. Each channel is a specific address for a memory slot in the multi-channel
analyzer, many storage slots or channels covering the energy range from 0 - 2000 keV.
Number of pulses in each channel is printed out or displayed on a monitor. The sample is analyzed
and the spectrum can be plotted to provide information about the energy of the radiation or the
amount of radioactive material dissolved in the cocktail.

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b) LSC Terminology

Chemiluminescence - Random single photon events, which are generated as a result of the
chemical interaction of the sample components.
Chemical Quenching - A reduction in the scintillation (light) intensity as seen by the photomultiplier
tubes due to light absorbing chemicals present in the scintillation solution. The result is fewer photons
per keV of beta particle energy and usually a reduction in counting efficiency.
Cocktail or counting fluid - The scintillation counting fluid, a mixture of 3 chemicals (solvent,
emulsifier, and Fluor) which produces light flashes when it absorbs the energy of particulate
radioactive decay.
CPM - Counts per minute. The number of counts the LSC registered per minute.
DPM - The sample's activity in units of nuclear decays per minute.
Efficiency - The ratio of measured counts per unit time to the actual number of decays which
occurred during the measurement time.
Emulsifier - A chemical component of the liquid scintillation fluid that works to keep the radioactive
sample suspended in the cocktail.
Fluor - A chemical component of the liquid scintillation cocktail that absorbs the UV light emitted by
the solvent and re-emits a light at a frequency that the PMT can detect.
Fluorescence - The emission of light resulting from the absorption of incident radiation and persisting
only as long as the stimulating radiation is continued.
Luminescence - A term for the emission of light by a material.
Optical Quenching - A reduction in the scintillation intensity seen by the photomultiplier tubes due to
absorption of the scintillation light either by materials present in scintillation solution or deposited on
the walls of the sample container or optic (e.g., dirt). The result is fewer photons per keV of beta
particle energy and usually a reduction in counting efficiency.
PMT - The Photo-Multiplier Tube is an electron tube that detects the blue light flashes from the Fluor
and converts them into an electrical pulse.
Phosphor- A luminescent substance or material capable of emitting light when stimulated by
Photoluminescence - Delayed and persistent emission of single photons of light following activation
by photons of light such as ultraviolet.
Quench - Anything which interferes with the conversion of the sample's radioactive decay energy into
light photons that the PMT can detect. Quenching results in a reduction in counting efficiency.
Secondary Scintillator - Material in the scintillation fluuid, which absorbs the emitted light of the
primary scintillator and remits it at a longer wavelength, nearer the maximum spectral sensitivity of
the photomultiplier tubes. It is added to improve the counting efficiency of the sample.
Solvent - A chemical component of the liquid scintillation cocktail that dissolves the sample material
and absorbs the emitted radiation excitation energy and emits UV light, which is absorbed by the

c) Considerations in Isotopic Analysis

The beta particle must have
sufficient energy to produce
at least 2 photons in the
cocktail and one must
interact with each PMT. The
photocathode of a PMT is
not 100% efficient. The
conversion efficiency from a
photon to a photoelectron is
only about 30%. The use of LSC for beta-emitters is attractive because it offers counting efficiencies of
up to 100% and simplicity of sample preparation. Almost all the kinetic energy associated with a beta
emission is given up to the media in a relatively short distance. The relative scintillation yield from this

Page 28 of 34

depends upon specific ionization. The higher the specific ionization, the lower the relative number of
photons produced.
The organic scintillators used in LSCs have a lower gamma ray
absorption coefficient than inorganic (NaI) scintillators. The
photoelectric effect is small when E gamma > 300 keV and Compton
scattering becomes the main absorption process. The pulse thus
depends upon gamma energy. For E gamma < 20 keV, the
photoelectric effect, in which all gamma energy transferred to a single
electron, predominates. For 20 keV < E gamma < 100 keV, both the
photoelectric and Compton effects contribute. And, for 100 keV < E
gamma < 3000 keV the Compton effects predominates. But for 125-I,
counting efficiency can be as high as 76% in a typical LSC.
d) Quench
Quench is a reduction in system efficiency as a result of energy loss in
the liquid scintillation solution. Because of quench, the energy spectrum
detected from the radionuclide appears to shift toward a lower energy
(see figure stripped area). There are three major types of quench
encountered photon, chemical, and colour quenching. Photon
quenching is the incomplete transfer of beta particle energy to solvent
molecule. Chemical (or impurity) quenching causes energy losses in
the transfer from solvent to solute. Optical or colour quenching causes
the attenuation of photons produced in solute.
Chemical quenching absorbs beta energy before it is converted to
photons while colour quenching results from the passage of the
photons through the medium. Colour quenching depends on the colour
of interfering chemical and the path length that the photon must travel.
In a chemically quenched
sample, all energy radiations
appear to be equally affected
whereas, for a coloured
sample, events that take place
close to one PMT will give rise
to a large pulse and a smaller
pulse in the other PMT. By
summation, the pulses are
added so the resultant pulse
height may be as large as from
unquenched, only the # of
events will be significantly reduced. Thus, at equal quench levels, the pulse height of coloured samples
are spread over a wider range than for chemical quench samples. Quenching affects the efficiency of
sample detectors quench could have a significant impact on your LSC results. Quench is important. You
must understand the impacts of quenching and how the system you are using indicates the problem if you
want to obtain accurate results.
e) Chemiluminescence / Photoluminescence
Luminescence is a single photon event and is registered as a count due to the probability of having
coincidence events at high luminescence activity. Although LSCs employ a coincidence circuit,
luminescence becomes a problem when the production of single photons occurs at a rate sufficiently
great that separate luminescence events stimulate each PMT within the resolving time of the coincidence

Page 29 of 34

Chemiluminescence is the production of light as a result of a chemical reaction between components of

the scintillation sample in the absence of radioactive material. This most typically occurs in samples of
alkaline pH and/or samples containing peroxides when mixed with emulsifier-type scintillation cocktails,
when alkaline tissue solubilizers are added to emulsifier-type scintillation cocktails, or in the presence of
oxidizing agents in the sample. Reactions are usually exothermic and result in the production of a large
number of single photons.
Photoluminescence results in the excitation of the counting fluid or the counting vial by UV light (e.g.,
exposure to sunlight or UV light sources). Chemiluminescence has a relatively slow decay time (from 20
minutes to one-day depending on the temperature) while photoluminescence decays more rapidly.
The luminescence spectrum has a pulse height distribution, which overlaps the H-3 spectrum. The
maximum pulse height corresponds to approximately 6 keV and the spectrum is (chemical) quench
independent. Cooling the luminescent scintillation samples reduces the photon intensity to low levels, but
the interference is still present and provides a false indication of luminescence control.
f) Static Electricity
Static electricity on liquid scintillation vials is a single photon event with pulse height limited to about 10
keV in energy. Many of the items (plastic racks, plastic vials) used in the liquid scintillation counter
process can contribute to development of static electricity. As a general rule, glass vials generate less
static than plastic vials; small vials in adapters or carrier vials can contribute to a static charge build-up.
Most of the newer counters have a static discharge device or an electrostatic eliminator built in to reduce
this problem. Alternatively, to raise the relative humidity within the LS counter fill a number vials with
water and leave these vials in a rack inside the counter.
g) Sample Volume / Dual Phase Samples
As the sample volume decreases, light output falls on less efficient areas of the PMT, so energy detection
becomes less efficient with low volumes. When 2 phases are present, each phase will have a specific
counting efficiency.
h) Sample Activity DPM Determination
Count your samples, the counts per minute and the quench level are printed out for each sample. Look
up efficiency for each sample at its quench level from the calibration curve plot.
To determine the activity (dpm) from the reported counts per minute (cpm), divide the number of counts
by the efficiency (i.e., dpm = cpm / eff).
i) Operating Procedures for LSC Counters
Read the instruments operating manual to gain familiarity with the controls and operating characteristics.
Place samples into LSC vials and add the correct amount (the smallest volume possible) of liquid
scintillation cocktail (e.g., 3-4 ml for mini vials and 10 ml, for maxi vials). Include a background
vial, which contains scintillation cocktail and the entire non-radioactive sample similar in make-up
(i.e., geometry) to your radioactive samples.
Place your sample vials with the background vial into the LSC tray (or belt) and place into the
Set count time to at least 2 minutes, shorter times give poor counting statistics.
Select the isotopes for your counting needs and begin counting.
Calculate the true radioactivity of the sample in units of dpm by dividing the sample cpm by the
counter efficiency for that energy of sample (i.e., dpm = cpm/eff). As discussed above, the
counter efficiency may be different for different vials depending on the amount of quenching

Page 30 of 34

j) Beckman LSC Considerations

All LSCs operate in the same manner, but different manufacturers use different terminology or offer more
options than others. Some systems allow the user to select the regions of interest by selecting a keV
range of interest. Others offer several options (channel or keV). Most of the comments made so far apply
to systems, where the user selects energy regions. If you are using a Beckman, usually the channel
option is the default option for the window setting. Beckman LSCs have 1000 channels and the energy is
related to the channel by the equation: Channel # = 72 + 280 log 10X(Emax): where Emax is in keV.
k) Cerenkov Counting
Some beta emitting isotopes can be analyzed on an LSC without using any cocktail. The literature of
several manufacturers discusses counting high energy (Emax > 800 keV) beta emitters without cocktail or
with only a little water, using a technique called Cerenkov counting.
When high-energy beta particles travel faster than the speed of light in the medium they are traversing
(e.g., water, plastic, glass, etc.) Cerenkov radiation (light) is produced. Cerenkov radiation is the blue light
you see when you look into a reactor pool. Cerenkov radiation allows some beta emitting radionuclides to
be analyzed with a liquid scintillation counter without using any cocktail. For Cerenkov radiation to be
produced, the beta particle must exceed a minimum threshold energy (Eth) which is calculated by the
formula Eth =511*n / (n2-1)1/2 - 511
In this equation, 511 is the rest mass of an electron in keV and n is the refractive index of the medium (n
glass = 1.5, n water = 1.33). Consider, for example, using water instead of cocktail. Then, for water, Eth =
263 keV. If you were counting filter papers in glass vials, then Eth = 175 keV. Given these energy
constraints, P-32, Cl-36l and Sr-90 / Y-90 have sufficient energy to be analyzed using Cerenkov counting.
From a practical point of view, the only beta emitting radionuclide likely to be analyzed by Cerenkov
counting is P-32 which emits a beta particle with Emax = 1,710 keV. Due to the spectrum of energies
emitted from beta particles, approximately 86% of the 32-P beta particles have energies exceeding the
Eth = 263 keV for counting in water. With proper LSC adapters, researchers can directly analyze their
samples in 0.5 and 1.5 ml microfuge tubes. Consider the following example of Cerenkov counting of a P32 labeled compound. An aliquot was placed in a 20 ml glass vial and counted with various quantities of
water added (see below). The activity used was estimated by counting an identical sample in LSC
cocktail and assuming 100% efficiency. As shown, counting P-32 in a 20-ml glass vial, with 4 - 12 ml of
added water gives optimum efficiency. However, note that relatively good efficiencies were obtained for
all samples. Typically the counting efficiency of P-32 in 4 - 12 ml of water is expected to be approximately
40 - 50% compared to the efficiency obtained by using LSC cocktail for the same P-32 sample of nearly
Cerenkov Counting Efficiencies
ml of water
% efficiency
As with any counting method, Cerenkov counting has advantages and disadvantages.
simple sample preparation (i.e., only add water, the volume is not too critical)
less expensive, (no LSC cocktail used)
sample can usually be recovered
no chemical quench (light is given up directly to the medium, no cocktail is employed)
Waste can be treated as solid if no water was used.
lower efficiency,
higher colour quench
Volume dependence (particularly if using less than 2 ml of water)
Medium dependence (glass, plastic vials, water, etc.)
Need approximately 1000 Becquerels of activity as a minimum
CAN NOT be used for counting swipe checks.

Page 31 of 34

The biggest factor preventing universal use of Cerenkov counting is beta energy. In order to achieve
adequate efficiency, the average beta energy (E avg. to the Emax) must be greater than the required
threshold energy, Eth. Thus, from a practical point of view, this criterion limits Cerenkov counting to beta
emitters with maximum energies greater than I MeV. The only commonly used radionuclide fitting these
criteria is P-32.
Removable Contamination Swipe Survey Techniques
Loose surface contamination is radioactive material in a form that is easily spread and is in a place where
we don't want it to be or don't know it is there. If persons walk through a contaminated area, some of the
radioactive material will be picked up by their shoes and spread around as they go about their business.
Loose surface contamination can be cleaned up using conventional janitorial methods although the rags
and other cleaning materials will then have to be controlled as contaminated materials. Removable
contamination poses potential problems, it may be inadvertently ingested if not quickly discovered and
decontaminated. It can be spread beyond the laboratory and cause undue stress to families and friends
of the workers involved. It may become airborne and become a potential inhalation hazard.
If loose contamination is absorbed into or worked into surfaces, it becomes more difficult to remove.
Although it would now appear to be fixed contamination, it may once again become loose contamination
due to abrasive actions or may simply leach from the surface.
Labs in which radionuclides are used and/or stored must be surveyed for removable radioactive
contamination by a swipe or smear survey. At a minimum, surveys must be done weekly when a lab has
radioactive materials in use. The swipe survey is performed by rubbing areas with a small piece of filter
paper or cotton swab. The survey is performed over an area of approximately 100 cm2 because that is the
approximate surface area that would be brushed by a person walked
through the lab. Even though this area is equivalent to a square
approximately 10-centimeters on a side, the preferred method of
performing this survey is to swipe an area in an S-shaped pattern
over a distance of about 100 centimeters (see Figure). If the item to
be surveyed is small and does not have 100 cm2 of surface to swipe,
attempt to swipe the entire surface and divide the results by the
approximate total surface area.
Swipe surveys are usually analyzed on low background, high efficiency laboratory equipment such as
liquid scintillation counters, or gamma counters, as appropriate. LSCs are routinely used to analyze for
alpha, beta, and auger electron emitting radionuclides (H-3, C-14, P-32, P-33, S-35, Cl-36, Cr-51, I-125,
etc.). Gamma counters are used to measure gamma-emitting radionuclides (Cr-51, Co-57, Tc-99m,
a) Swipe Survey Terminology
Gamma Counter
A laboratory radiation detection instrument specially adapted to detect the presence of radio nuclides,
which emit gamma or X-rays (e.g., Cr-51, Co-57, Tc-99m, I-125, Ce-141, etc.).
The presence of radioactive material where it is not supposed to be, certain areas (desks, floors,
telephones, doorknobs, etc.) are expected to be contamination free.
Non-Removable Contamination
Radioactive contamination present on a surface that cannot be removed or reduced using routine
cleaning methods.
Removable Radioactive
Contamination which can be removed using routine cleaning methods.

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A deliberate evaluation of the presence or radiation / contamination related to the production, use,
release, disposal, or presence of sources of radiation under a specific set of condition
Action Levels
When the following levels of Removable Surface Contamination for beta and gamma radiation emitters
are encountered, the surfaces are required to be decontaminated and resurveyed to ensure the surface
has been decontaminated.
For non-radioactive work areas 0.5 Bq / cm2
For radioactive work areas
5.0 Bq / cm2
b) Swipe Survey Procedures
A weekly swipe survey must be performed as noted above. A meter survey is usually performed first to
identify radiation levels in the laboratory and potentially contaminated areas. After performing the meter
survey, a swipe survey at the same points must be performed.
Wear lab coat, safety glasses, and disposable gloves.

Protective gloves should be worn while taking swipes.

Identify locations where radioactive material is used/stored and the equipment used for radioactive
Key these locations to the room's floor diagram with letters or numbers (Figure ).
Moisten pieces of filter paper, cotton-tipped swabs, or Kimwipe.
Key each swab to the identified locations on the floor diagram (e.g., label the lid of each vial into
which they will be placed).
Swipe an area of at least 100 cm2 (e.g., 10 x 10, 100 x 1, etc.) at each identified location (Figure) or
piece of equipment.
It is preferable to swipe a larger area, but use only one swab per area. Once taken, the swipe is
considered radioactive.
Handle swipes so that you avoid cross-contaminating the swipe samples.
Do not place them in your pocket as they may contaminate your clothing.
Place each swipe into its appropriate vial, tube, or planchet.
For LSC counting, add the appropriate volume of liquid scintillation cocktail into the vial.
Place and secure caps on vials.
The first sample must be a background sample, that is a sample with the swipe material, but it has
not swiped any laboratory surfaces.
Places the vials in racks and load the racks into the liquid scintillation counter.
Ensure that the counting program is set to count the isotope you are using and a wide open counting
To ensure good counting statistics, set the count time for at least two minutes and the count the
Review the results for any indication of contamination.
Areas with removable in excess of the maximum permissible levels must be decontaminated and
then re-swiped.
The print out from the counter must be placed in the contamination logbook for the laboratory. The
weekly survey must include the date of the survey; initials of the person who performed the survey;
the areas which were surveyed.

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Atomic structure pictures, Page 4,5 - Triumf
Figure Page 3 - Line of Stability, Pearson Education, Inc. publishing as Addison Wesley
Figure page 5 - exponential decay
Decay rate graph Page5 - Decay rate Graph HyperPhysics. C.R. Nave, 2006
Figure 3 a b Safety Fundamentals Workbook.doc
Radiation Protection Bureau, Publication 97-EHD-210, Occupational Radiation Exposures in Canada 1996, available on the Internet in PDF format at:
Canada: Living with Radiation, Atomic Energy Control Board, 1995. Canada Communication Group
Publishing, Ottawa, Canada K1A 0S9.
B.J. Lewis et al, Measurement of neutron radiation exposure of commercial airline pilots using bubble
detectors. Nuclear Technology Volume 106, June 1994, pages 373-383.
Radiation Doses from Medical Diagnostic Procedures in Canada, Advisory Committee on Radiological
Protection, INFO-0670, 1997.

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