Ionizing radiation is a serious threat that’s completely invisible to the naked eye. It has no odor and it doesn’t make a sound. No human sense can pick up radioactive emissions, which makes detection equipment the only way for people to know if a hazard is present or not.
Radiation detection is a largely indirect process that takes several steps to accomplish. It might be useful to break down these steps to better explain how safety experts have been able to determine whether there are dangerous levels of contamination in an area or not.
Steps for Detecting Contamination
STEP 1. Assign Radiation Meters and Dosimeters
The first step to gauging contamination levels should be to have devices on hand for all personnel who work in the vicinity of a radiological hazard. Henri Becquerel originally discovered radioactivity because it could fog up a piece of film. While some atomic power facilities and scientific labs still pass out small badges with bits of film in them for this reason, digital equipment is preferred by many today.
Digital dosimeters have several distinct advantages that have helped aid adoption. They can measure the total theoretical dose and dose rate of ionizing radiation that an individual receives. Scintillators are materials that produce an optical phenomenon when exposed to radiation. Sophisticated models feature scintillators made from a Cesium Iodide or another similar compound to provide a better response to low-level radiation.
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STEP 2. Calibrate the Radiation Meter
Regardless of what sort of radiation detector or dosimeter is given out, the next step is to calibrate it. Most digital devices automate this process. Activating the calibration mode will cause the unit to take measurements of background radiation and potentially a test source made up of a sample of lightly radioactive material.
Calibration generally only has to be done once. The next time the device is used, this step doesn’t have to be repeated.
STEP 3. Activate Radioactivity Logging
Once the unit is functional, it’s time to activate the automatic logging function. Some devices allow users to customize logging intervals to provide a more personalized experience. Others offer a data transmitter that sends updates to a wireless network. In either case, technicians check to make sure that information is being recorded and stored in some fashion.
STEP 4. Taking Regular Radiation Measurements
Once a piece of equipment has detected elevated levels of ionizing radiation, it might automatically calculate a dose rate. A technician can look down at his or her meter and know just how much they’re absorbing at any given time. Several different units are used to express the measurements.
Metric measurements like µSv/h are standard across most devices. Many also provide customary measurements such as rem/h and R/h. Keeping an eye on these figures is an important part of determining whether or not a location is overwhelmed with radiological contaminants.
Choosing the Right Radiation Detector
First responders, medical technicians and those who work in the atomic energy industry use radiation detectors on a daily basis. Choosing the right meter and then training personnel to use it might be challenging, but it’s an important part of staying safe when dealing with any possibility of radiological contaminants.
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