Radiation Safety Requirements

Radiation exposure can be reduced with safety measures.

The abundant knowledge of radiation exposure gained over the last century has led to international guidelines for radiation safety. One example, the Basic Safety Standards (BSS), primarily studied the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings–revealing that low-level radiation caused more harm than previously thought–and the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents—which increased public awareness of radiation hazards. Health effects of most radiation exposure can be reduced through conscientious safety measures.

Radiation Containment

Naval reactors must be tough and durable enough to stand up to decades of pitching and rolling and rapid changes in power demands, especially in times of war. Nuclear-powered subs and ships enclose the reactor inside a self-contained reactor compartment with more than 100 tons of lead shielding. Having sailors living so closely to the reactor compartments requires a design that keeps external radiation levels at extremely low levels. In all nuclear reactors (naval or civilian), the radiation sources must be protected from theft and damage. Any protective measures taken must be recorded and be verifiable.

Nuclear Power Procedure

Nuclear power plants require radioactive materials to be categorized by their levels of radiation, contamination or airborne radioactivity. Personnel working in unrestricted areas can expect to receive much lower doses of radiation annually. Naval reactors demand extremely high standards for construction and performance for nuclear and radiation safety, due to the necessities to operate a moving seagoing vessel as well as containment within close quarters to the crew.

Intervention for Protection of Personnel

Interventions insist on finding ways to lower exposure, or the likelihood of exposure, to radiation, whether chronic (radon) or in emergency situations (following an accident). Workers using x-ray equipment wear protective gear (aprons) when necessary and have lead-lined doors and walls to stand behind during x-ray procedures. Electron microscopes are generally safe, although they can develop leaks when column shielding is installed incorrectly, or when the microscope has been modified or recently moved, in which case radiation surveys must be completed. Persons working in radiation, contamination or airborne radioactivity areas must be monitored for radiation exposure.

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Job Safety Procedures for Personnel

U.S. regulations require workers using x-ray equipment to obtain and wear radiation-monitoring badges. Electron microscope users require no badges. Workers entering controlled areas of nuclear power plants are required to wear protective garments and dosimetry devices appropriate with work area. Upon leaving the controlled area, workers are expected to check their contamination levels and to tender their dosimetry devices showing the radiation levels received while in the work area.