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Radiation

Radiation occurs from two sources:

  • Natural radiation, which exists due to materials present in the earth and particles arriving from space. 
  • Artificial radiation is caused by man-made processes. 

There is no difference in the effects of the radiation with either source.

An average person in the UK will receive 10% of their annual dose of radiation from the suns cosmic rays, another 50% is due to Radon (Rn) a gas generated from naturally occurring uranium present in the earth.  Artificial radiation sources include medical treatments (approximately 15%) and fall out from nuclear tests and accidents (approximately 1%).

A person will be continually exposed to a low level of radiation throughout their life, this is normal and does not cause any health effects.  Exposure to large amounts of radiation however can cause sterility, cataracts or even death.  Lower amounts of exposure over a long period of time can cause cancer or hereditary defects in descendants. Radon exposure is thought to cause about 2,500 deaths per year in the UK.

RIMNET

RIMNET, or Radioactive Incident Monitoring Network was set up in 1994, six years after the Chernobyl accident. Its purpose is to improve the UK's ability to respond to any overseas nuclear accident of a similar kind in the future.

The RIMNET Phase 2 system independently detects radioactivity resulting from any overseas accident affecting the UK through 92 monitoring sites located around the country.  The network supplies routine hourly readings and raises an alert if any abnormal increases are noted.  Following detection it will support the on-going collection and analysis of radiological monitoring data relating to the incident and provide for distribution of information concerning its effects to the media, official agencies and the public.  Lincolnshire County Council through the Emergency Planning Unit receive this information and they in turn distribute it to all district councils and other relevant agencies in the county.

Radioactive Substances Register

A number of premises use small amounts of radioactive materials.  Examples include americium 241 used in smoke detectors and Polonium 210 used in dust detection and anti-static devices.  All these premises are registered with the Environment Agency under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. 

The Environment Agency is obliged to send a copy of the certificate for each premise to the relevant local authority.  More information can be found on the Environment Agency's website.

Mobile Phone Masts

The main concern in the last few years is radiation from mobile phone masts.  Mobile phone companies have a license from the government to provide network installations throughout the country.  They have to show some consideration in the location and the design of the installation.

Mobile phones work by using radio waves transmitted from base stations - both emit radio frequency radiation when in use.  This radiation is an electromagnetic transmission of energy, similar to that from televisions and radios.

If there is a large distance between a mobile phone and its connecting base a lot of energy is needed for the phone to operate.  The more energy that is used by the phone, the higher the level of radiation is emitted to the soft tissues of the head. Which is more likely in children due to their softer head tissue.  Mast aerials are unlikely to cause a heating effect beyond a few metres around its area.

Research has been carried out worldwide and more studies are continuing to assess if this radiation is a health risk - no evidence has yet been found. However, as this technology is new and with unknown long term effects, the government requires that the emission of radiation does not exceed the levels set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). 

Mobile phone companies must submit a certificate with each application for a mast to prove that the levels are not exceeded.

Schools who  are concerned about the radiation levels within the school grounds can request measurements to be carried out by the Office of Communications (Ofcom). A database of radiation levels at schools is being compiled.

Radiation levels measured by Ofcom and the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), at schools and other areas, have found a very small percentage of the maximum levels prescribed by ICNIRP.

For further information on the Emergency Planning Unit's involvement with issues relating to radiation, please contact us.

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Last updated: 18 April 2013

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