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Radiation in Industry

Although scientists have only known about radiation since the 1890s, they have developed a wide variety of uses for this natural force. Today, to benefit humankind, radiation is used in medicine, academics, and industry, as well as for generating electricity. In addition, radiation has useful applications in such areas as agriculture, archaeology (carbon dating), space exploration, law enforcement, geology (including mining), and many others. Electricity produced by nuclear fission splitting the atom is one of the greatest uses of radiation. (Nuclear Reactor) Heat from nuclear fission is used to raise steam, which runs through turbines, which in turn powers electrical generators. Industrial radiography also called non-destructive testing Radiation is used to inspect pipes, walls, and a variety of structures to look for defects. The source can be a sealed source of radioactive material (iridium-192) or an x-ray machine. An example of industrial radiography is when a radiation source is lowered into piping to the location of a weld and, with photographic film wrapped on the outside of the weld, a radiograph of the weld is taken to assure it is free of defect. Smoke detectors sometimes contain a small amount of a radioactive source (americium-241) within a metal chamber. In a smoke detector, the radioactivity in the source emits a constant stream of alpha particles that are sensed by a small radiation detector, causing a small current. If smoke comes between the source and the detector, the current is decreased, leaving nothing for the detector to sense, and the alarm goes off. Cabinet x-ray systems are one of the more common devices used for security. They are found primarily at airports (the devices that carry-on bags are sent through for x-ray examination), although you might see them at the entrances to some federal and state agencies and courthouses. These units use a low-dose, continuous x-ray beam, which is also referred to as fluoroscopy. Most items receive about one-tenth of a millirem of exposure (about a tenth of a days worth of natural background radiation). This amount of radiation wont harm food, vitamins, prescriptions, milk, or other items you might eat later and is usually even safe for your lower-speed camera film (<1,000). The x-ray source within the machine is completely shielded, so there is no hazard to you as you walk by the unit or to people who work by the unit 8 to 10 hours a day. CT (computerized tomography) machines are used to scan your checked luggage at the airport and sometimes to scan cargo coming in on planes or ships. CT machines emit x rays and are as safe as the cabinet x-ray systems mentioned above. The radiation dose to your luggage is about the same, you can eat or drink anything that was in your luggage without concern, you can stand by the machine, and you can work by the machineall with no worry.