Radiation dosimetry is the measurement, calculation and assessment of the absorbed doses and assigning those doses to individuals. It is the science and practice that attempts to quantitatively relate specific measures made in a radiation field to chemical and/or biological changes that the radiation would produce in a target.
Environmental dosimetry is used where it is likely that the environment will generate a significant radiation dose. As was written, radiation is all around us. In, around, and above the world we live in. It is a natural energy force that surrounds us. It is a part of our natural world that has been here since the birth of our planet. All living creatures, from the beginning of time, have been, and are still being, exposed to ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is generated through nuclear reactions, nuclear decay, by very high temperature, or via acceleration of charged particles in electromagnetic fields.
In general, there are two broad categories of radiation sources in the environment:
- Natural Background Radiation. Natural background radiation includes radiation produced by the Sun, lightnings, primordial radioisotopes or supernova explosions etc.
- Man-Made Sources of Radiation. Man-made sources include medical uses of radiation, residues from nuclear tests, industrial uses of radiation etc.
An example of environment dosimetry is radon monitoring. Radon is a radioactive gas generated by the decay of uranium, which is present in varying amounts in the earth’s crust. It is important to note that radon is a noble gas, whereas all its decay products are metals. The main mechanism for the entry of radon into the atmosphere is diffusion through the soil. Certain geographic areas, due to the underlying geology, continually generate radon which permeates its way to the earth’s surface. In some cases the dose can be significant in buildings where the gas can accumulate. Locations with higher radon background are well mapped in each country. In the open air, it ranges from 1 to 100 Bq/m3, even less (0.1 Bq/m3) above the ocean. In caves or aerated mines, or ill-aerated houses, its concentration climbs to 20–2,000 Bq/m3. In the outdoor atmosphere, there is also some advection caused by wind and changes in barometric pressure. A number of specialised dosimetry techniques are used to evaluate the dose that a building’s occupants may receive.
As was written, the study and analysis of gamma ray spectra for scientific and technical use is called gamma spectroscopy, and gamma ray spectrometers are the instruments which observe and collect such data. A gamma ray spectrometer (GRS) is a sophisticated device for measuring the energy distribution of gamma radiation. For the measurement of gamma rays above several hundred keV, there are two detector categories of major importance, inorganic scintillators as NaI(Tl) and semiconductor detectors. In the previous articles, we described the gamma spectroscopy using scintillation detector, which consists of a suitable scintillator crystal, a photomultiplier tube, and a circuit for measuring the height of the pulses produced by the photomultiplier. The advantages of a scintillation counter are its efficiency (large size and high density) and the high precision and counting rates that are possible. Due to the high atomic number of iodine, a large number of all interactions will result in complete absorption of gamma-ray energy, so the photo fraction will be high.
But if a perfect energy resolution is required, we have to use germanium-based detector, such as the HPGe detector. Germanium-based semiconductor detectors are most commonly used where a very good energy resolution is required, especially for gamma spectroscopy, as well as x-ray spectroscopy. In gamma spectroscopy, germanium is preferred due to its atomic number being much higher than silicon and which increases the probability of gamma ray interaction. Moreover, germanium has lower average energy necessary to create an electron-hole pair, which is 3.6 eV for silicon and 2.9 eV for germanium. This also provides the latter a better resolution in energy. The FWHM (full width at half maximum) for germanium detectors is a function of energy. For a 1.3 MeV photon, the FWHM is 2.1 keV, which is very low.