Ionizing radiation

What is ionizing radiation and why is it harmful to health?

Ionizing radiation is a type of energy that is able to remove electrons from atoms, creating ions. This type of radiation can cause damage to living tissues, increasing the risk of cancer, heart disease and other pathologies.

Ionizing radiation can be emitted from natural sources such as the sun, but also from human activities such as the use of radioactive materials in medicine or industry. The most common sources of ionizing radiation are X-rays, gamma radiation and beta particles.


Our body can handle a certain amount of ionizing radiation exposure without suffering permanent damage. However, exposure to high doses can be extremely harmful to health.

The tissues of our body are composed of cells that can be damaged by ionizing radiation. When cells undergo DNA damage, this can lead to the formation of genetic mutations that can cause diseases such as cancer.

Exposure to ionizing radiation can also affect the immune system and cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart disease and other pathologies.

To reduce the risks associated with exposure to ionizing radiation, it is important to take appropriate precautions when working with radioactive materials or performing medical procedures involving the use of X-rays or other radiation sources.

How do ionizing and non-ionizing radiation work?

Radiation is a type of energy that propagates in the environment in the form of waves or particles. There are two main types of radiation: non-ionizing and ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is able to remove electrons from the atoms of the human body, causing damage to cells and tissues. This type of radiation can be produced naturally (from radioactive rocks for example) or artificially (from nuclear power plants, atomic weapons).

Non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to remove electrons from the atoms of the human body. This type of radiation can be produced from natural sources (such as the sun) or artificial (such as mobile phones). However, non-ionizing radiation can cause health damage, such as overheating of body tissues.

In general, people are more exposed to non-ionising radiation than ionizing radiation: exposure to radio waves emitted by mobile phones is much more common than radiation exposure produced by nuclear power plants.

What is ionizing radiation?

Ionizing radiation can be divided into two categories: alpha and beta particles and gamma rays and X. Alpha and beta particles consist of particles of matter moving at extremely high speeds. Gamma and X-rays consist of high-energy electromagnetic waves.

Alpha radiation consists of charged particles of two protons and two neutrons (helium nucleus) that are emitted by some unstable atomic nuclei. Because of their high mass, they have a low penetration capacity in materials and can be blocked by a thin layer of paper or fabric.

Beta radiation consists of charged particles (electrons or positrons) that move at high speeds. They are emitted by some unstable atomic nuclei during radioactive decay. Beta radiation has a higher penetration rate than alpha radiation, but is still limited. They can be blocked by a thicker material than alpha radiation, such as aluminum foil.

Gamma radiation consists of high-energy photons that have no electric charge. They are produced by the decay of unstable atomic nuclei and can penetrate deep into materials. Gamma radiation is the most dangerous to human health, as it can cause DNA damage and increase the risk of cancer.

In addition to the three main types of ionizing radiation, there is also neutron radiation, which consists of high-energy free neutrons. This form of radiation is produced during some nuclear reactions and has a high penetration capacity into materials.

The effect of ionizing radiation on the human body depends on the amount of energy absorbed and the duration of exposure. Exposure to high doses of ionizing radiation can cause tissue damage, including cell mutation.

How to measure ionizing radiation?

There are several instruments used to measure ionizing radiation. The most common is the dosimeter, which is worn by people exposed to radiation in order to detect the amount of radiation to which they were exposed. This tool can be used in working environments such as medical centers or nuclear plants where the risk of radiation exposure is greater.

Another instrument used to measure ionizing radiation is the radiometer. This instrument is used to detect the amount of radiation present in the surrounding environment. This instrument is used to detect the amount of radiation present in the surrounding environment.

There are also more sophisticated instruments such as Geiger-Muller counters, which are mainly used in science and industry. These tools can detect even the smallest particles and can be used to monitor the radioactivity of soil or water.

In addition, it is possible to measure ionizing radiation through the analysis of biological samples such as blood or urine. This technique is mainly used in the medical field to monitor exposure to ionizing radiation by patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Exposure to ionizing radiation and protection

Ionizing radiation is present in different environments and situations: in nuclear power plants, in research laboratories or in industries that use radioactive materials. These radiations are produced by sources such as plutonium, uranium or caesium-137 and can cause health damage if not handled properly.

Other places where you may be exposed to ionizing radiation are hospitals. Here they are used to diagnose and treat certain diseases, through the use of X-rays, computed tomography (CT) or radiotherapy. Although these techniques can save lives, their repeated exposure can pose health risks.

Gli ambienti esterni possono anche contenere radiazioni ionizzanti, ad esempio a causa di eventi naturali come eruzioni vulcaniche o terremoti. In addition, cosmic rays from space can penetrate Earth’s atmosphere and cause exposure to ionizing radiation.

Even objects around us can emit ionizing radiation. For example, some types of minerals contain radioactive elements such as thorium or uranium. Even lamps with low electrical consumption emit ionizing radiation, although in very small quantities.

Ionizing radiation is a potential health risk and therefore there are a number of protective and preventive measures to reduce exposure. First of all, it is important to limit exposure to radiation sources. For example, if you are working in an environment where you are using machines that emit ionizing radiation, it is important to wear protective equipment such as protective screens or coveralls.

Secondly, it is important to monitor exposure to ionizing radiation. This can be done by measuring the radiation dose received by the body. There are specific tools for this purpose that can be used to monitor radiation exposure.