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Introduction to Radiation:

Radiation Types

©Health Physics Society

Introduction to Radiation

• Objectives
• To provide useful information about
radiation for interested individuals
• To introduce basic concepts of radiation
and radioactivity
• Improve understanding of radiation –
what it is and how it interacts
Types of Ionizing Radiation

Alpha Particles
Stopped by a sheet of paper
Beta Particles
Stopped by a layer of clothing
or less than an inch of a substance
(e.g. plastic)

Gamma Rays
Stopped by inches to feet of concrete
or less than an inch of lead
Radiation Types - Alpha

• An alpha particle consists of two

protons and two neutrons
• Very large on an atomic scale
• Positively charged
• Penetration in materials
• Outside the body, an alpha emitter is
not a hazard unless it is on the skin
• Inside the body, an alpha emitter is a
bigger hazard if it deposits its energy in
sensitive tissue
Radiation Types - Alpha
• Common alpha-particle emitters
• Radon-222 gas in the environment
• Uranium-234 and -238) in the
• Polonium-210 in tobacco
• Common alpha-particle emitter uses
• Smoke detectors
• Cigarettes/cigars
• Static eliminators
Radiation Types - Beta
• A beta particle is a charged electron
• Has the size and weight of an electron
• Can be positively or negatively charged
• Penetration in materials
• At low energies, a beta particle is not very
penetrating – stopped by the outer layer
of skin or a piece of paper
• At higher energies, a beta particle may
penetrate to the live layer of skin and may
need 0.5” of plexiglass to be stopped
Radiation Types - Beta

• Penetration in materials, continued

• Inside the body, a beta particle is not as
hazardous as an alpha particle because it
is not as big
• Because it is not as big, it travels farther,
interacting with more tissue (but each
small piece of tissue gets less energy
Radiation Types - Beta
• Common beta-particle emitters
• Tritium (hydrogen-3) in the
• Carbon (14) in the environment
• Phosphorus (32) used in research and
• Common beta-particle emitter uses
• Carbon dating
• Basic research
• Cancer treatment
Radiation Types - Photon
• A photon is an x or gamma ray
• Has no weight
• Has no charge
• Penetration in materials
• At low energies, a photon can be stopped
by a very thin (almost flexible) layer of
lead or several centimeters of tissue
• At higher energies, inches of lead might
be necessary to stop a photon and they
can pass right through a human
Radiation Types - Photon
• Common photon emitters
• Cesium (137)
• Technetium (99m) used in medicine
• Iodine (131) used in medicine
• Common photon emitter uses
• Determining the density of soil
• Diagnosing disease
• Cancer treatment
Photon Decay
99mTc 99Tc
Gamma ray

Excited Stable Nucleus

Examples of Radioactive Materials
Radionuclide Half-Life Activity Use
Cesium-137 30 yrs 1.5 x 106 Ci Food Irradiator
Cobalt-60 5 yrs 15,000 Ci Cancer Therapy
Plutonium-239 24,000 yrs 600 Ci Nuclear Weapon
Iridium-192 74 days 100 Ci Industrial Radiography
Hydrogen-3 12 yrs 12 Ci Exit Signs
Strontium-90 29 yrs 0.1 Ci Eye Therapy Device
Iodine-131 8 days 0.015 Ci Therapy
Technetium-99m 6 hrs 0.025 Ci Imaging
Americium-241 432 yrs 0.000005 Ci Smoke Detectors
Radon-222 4 days 1 pCi/l Environmental