Intensity of radiation is a key factor, which determines health effects from being exposed to any radiation. It is similar as being exposed to heat radiation from a fire (in fact, it is also transferred by photons). If you are too close to a fire, the intensity of thermal radiation is high and you can get burned. If you are at the right distance, you can withstand there without any problems and moreover it is comfortable. If you are too far from heat source, the insufficiency of heat can also hurt you. This analogy, in a certain sense, can be applied to radiation also from ionizing radiation sources.
In short, to get burned (deterministic effects and demonstrable stochastic effects) by ionizing radiation, you must be exposed to really high amount of radiation. But almost everytime, we are talking about so called low doses. As was written, today the protection system is based on the LNT-hypothesis, which is a conservative model used in radiation protection to estimate the health effects from small radiation doses. This model is excellent for setting up a protection system for all use of ionizing radiation. This model assumes, that there is no threshold point and risk increases linearly with a dose, i.e. the LNT model implies that there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation. If this linear model is correct, then natural background radiation is the most hazardous source of radiation to general public health, followed by medical imaging as a close second. It must be added, the research during the last two decades is very interesting and show that small doses of radiation given at a low dose rate stimulate the defense mechanisms. Therefore the LNT model is not universally accepted with some proposing an adaptive dose–response relationship where low doses are protective and high doses are detrimental. Many studies have contradicted the LNT model and many of these have shown adaptive response to low dose radiation resulting in reduced mutations and cancers. On the other hand, it is very important, to what type of radiation is a person exposed.
Equivalent Dose Rate
The equivalent dose rate is the rate at which an equivalent dose is received. It is a measure of radiation dose intensity (or strength). The equivalent dose rate is therefore defined as:
In conventional units, it is measured in mSv/sec, Sv/hr, mrem/sec or rem/hr. Since the amount of radiation exposure depends directly (linearly) on the time people spend near the source of radiation, the absorbed dose is equal to the strength of the radiation field (dose rate) multiplied by the length of time spent in that field. The example above indicates a person could expect to receive a dose of 25 millirems by staying in a 50 millirems/hour field for thirty minutes.
Sievert and Gray
For radiation protection purposes, the absorbed dose is averaged over an organ or tissue, T, and this absorbed dose average is weighted for the radiation quality in terms of the radiation weighting factor, wR, for the type and energy of radiation incident on the body. The radiation weighting factor is a dimensionless factor used to determine the equivalent dose from the absorbed dose averaged over a tissue or organ and is based on the type of radiation absorbed. The resulting weighted dose was designated as the organ- or tissue equivalent dose:
An equivalent dose of one Sievert represents that quantity of radiation dose that is equivalent, in terms of specified biological damage, to one gray of X-rays or gamma rays. A dose of one Sv caused by gamma radiation is equivalent to an energy deposition of one joule in a kilogram of a tissue. That means one sievert is equivalent to one gray of gamma rays deposited in certain tissue. On the other hand, similar biological damage (one sievert) can be caused only by 1/20 gray of alpha radiation (due to high wR of alpha radiation). Therefore, the sievert is not a physical dose unit. For example, an absorbed dose of 1 Gy by alpha particles will lead to an equivalent dose of 20 Sv. This may seem to be a paradox. It implies that the energy of the incident radiation field in joules has increased by a factor of 20, thereby violating the laws of Conservation of energy. However, this is not the case. Sievert is derived from the physical quantity absorbed dose, but also takes into account the biological effectiveness of the radiation, which is dependent on the radiation type and energy. The radiation weighting factor causes that the sievert cannot be a physical unit.
One sievert is a large amount of equivalent dose. A person who has absorbed a whole body dose of 1 Sv has absorbed one joule of energy in each kg of body tissue (in case of gamma rays).
Equivalent doses measured in industry and medicine often have usually lower doses than one sievert, and the following multiples are often used:
1 mSv (millisievert) = 1E-3 Sv
1 µSv (microsievert) = 1E-6 Sv
Conversions from the SI units to other units are as follows:
- 1 Sv = 100 rem
- 1 mSv = 100 mrem
Examples of Doses in Sieverts
We must note that 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. In the following points we try to express enormous ranges of radiation exposure, which can be obtained from various sources.
- 0.05 µSv – Sleeping next to someone
- 0.09 µSv – Living within 30 miles of a nuclear power plant for a year
- 0.1 µSv – Eating one banana
- 0.3 µSv – Living within 50 miles of a coal power plant for a year
- 10 µSv – Average daily dose received from natural background
- 20 µSv – Chest X-ray
- 40 µSv – A 5-hour airplane flight
- 600 µSv – mammogram
- 1 000 µSv – Dose limit for individual members of the public, total effective dose per annum
- 3 650 µSv – Average yearly dose received from natural background
- 5 800 µSv – Chest CT scan
- 10 000 µSv – Average yearly dose received from natural background in Ramsar, Iran
- 20 000 µSv – single full-body CT scan
- 175 000 µSv – Annual dose from natural radiation on a monazite beach near Guarapari, Brazil.
- 5 000 000 µSv – Dose that kills a human with a 50% risk within 30 days (LD50/30), if the dose is received over a very short duration.