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A to Z of services: Radiation
Radiation occurs from two sources. Natural radiation exists due to materials present in the earth and particles arriving from outer space. Artificial radiation is caused by man made processes. There is no difference in the effects of the radiation regarding its source.
An average person in the UK will receive approximately 10% of their annual dose of radiation from the sun's cosmic rays, whilst another 50% is due to Radon (Rn), a gas generated from naturally occurring uranium present in the earth. Artificial radiation sources included 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 perfectly 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.
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 premises to the relevant local authority.
Mobile Phone Masts
The main concern about radiation in the last few years is radiation from mobile phone masts.
Mobile phone companies have a licence 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 or radios.
If there is a large distance between a mobile phone and its connecting base a lot of energy is needed for a 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 pronounced in children due 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 been found at present. 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 ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection).
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 the 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.
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