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Dangers and Uses of Radiation

Discusses radiation that is present in the environment, how radiation is detected and the dangers it presents.

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Radiation Protection

Radiation Protection

Credit: Gillette, Bill
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WARNING_SIGN_AT_UNION_CARBIDE_URANIUM_MILL_-_NARA_-_543645.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This universal radiation warning sign is easy to recognize. That’s a good thing, because radiation exposure can cause serious health problems, including cancer.

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  • We aren’t normally exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. However, accidents at nuclear power plant or acts of terror could put us at risk. Is there anything we can do to reduce the danger?
  • Credit: Kyle Taylor
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyletaylor/4074953716/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Much of the city of Chernobyl is still abandoned and uninhabitable since the nuclear disaster in 1986 [Figure2]


  • Actually, there is. In cases of exposure to the radioisotope iodine-131, we can take pills containing the ionic compound potassium iodide (KI). Watch this short video to learn how potassium iodide can protect you from radiation: 


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Learn more about radiation risks and the benefits of potassium iodide at the links below. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is potassium iodide?
  2. What protection does potassium iodide confer on people who have been exposed to radiation? What limitations does it have in terms of protecting people from radiation?
  3. When there is a nuclear disaster, there is likely to be a lot of iodine-131 in the environment. How does the iodine-131 get into the body?
  4. Explain how potassium iodide protects the thyroid gland from iodine-131.
  5. Who is most at risk of injury from iodine-131?
  6. Who should not take potassium iodide to protect from iodine-131?
  7. Iodine is added to sodium chloride (NaCl), or table salt. It is called iodized salt. Why won’t iodized table salt protect your thyroid gland from iodine-131?
  8. If a nuclear disaster occurs, when should you take potassium iodide?
  9. Why should you not take potassium iodide just as a precaution, say, as a dietary supplement?

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