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Radiation Awareness

Radiation Awareness Week

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) encourages Hoosiers to identify the common misconceptions about radiation and learn more about its role in everyday life during Radiation Awareness Week (Feb. 14–20, 2021).

About Radiation

Worker scanning semi truck for radiation
A radiation specialist scans a semi truck for potential radioactive material.

Although radiation is naturally present in our environment, it can have either beneficial or harmful effects, depending on its use and control. The radiation programs at IDHS have the responsibility of regulating the use and transportation of all radioactive materials in Indiana, as well as helping the state and local communities prepare for potential radiological emergency situations.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), most radioisotopes are artificially produced in research reactors and accelerators. However, out of more than 3,000 known existing radioisotopes, 84 of them occur naturally in nature. Additionally, specific types of radioisotopes are prevalently used in the medical and industrial fields.

Nuclear power plant facility with cooling towers
Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station, located in northeastern Illinois, provides Chicago and northern Illinois with electricity.

Disposing of radioactive material is an intricate and thorough process. Materials with radioisotopes sent to Indiana landfills from hospitals, industries and the environment are passed through radiation scanners as they travel toward their destination. When one of these scanners detects radiation, IDHS responds to the location to investigate and identify the type of radiation to confirm it is not a health risk, and to have it disposed of safely.

Barrel of radioactive material next to pile of rubble
Rocks and rubble are examples of objects that are capable of containing radioactive isotopes.

Radioisotopes from medical waste and construction rubble are common and safe to deposit into landfills, as they have a short half-life. Materials with radioisotopes containing a longer half-life, however, are required to be sent back to wherever they were shipped from, even if they came from outside the state of Indiana. These cases are rare.

To learn more about the different types of radiation and the impacts it has on human health, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Radiation and Your Health webpage.

For more information on the Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program at IDHS, visit the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program webpage.

Ask the IDHS Experts: Radiation Fact vs. Fiction

Everyone knows radiation gives you superpowers, glows bright green and can cause you to grow extra limbs, right?

If you live in a Hollywood movie or TV show, sure. In reality, there is not a chance any of that is going to happen. The Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s (IDHS) Radiological Emergency Preparedness (REP) Program answers five of the commonly misunderstood radiation questions below:

  • Does radiation glow? Why do people think it does?
    Fuel rods

    No, radiation does not glow. The energy that is given off by radioactive materials is not visible to the human eye. There are some instances that radioactive materials can be made to glow, however, this is a result of an interaction with another material. The belief that radioactive materials glow has been manifested by TV and movies to make “radioactive materials” easily identifiable.

  • Movies and TV shows depict radiation as something that will cause mutations. Is there any truth to that?
    Hazmat workers scanning a field of grass

    While radiation will not give you superpowers like the Hulk or Spiderman, radiation can be harmful in large amounts. If an individual receives a large amount of radiation in a short amount of time, there may be some damage to the individual’s cells. In most cases, the body can repair the damage with no ill effects; however, if the body is unable to repair the damage, the cells may be “mutated” into cancerous cells.

  • Do people who have gone through radiation therapy give off radiation? Am I able to contract radiation from them?
    Radiation symbol with yellow wisps of smoke

    In short, yes. Individuals who have gone through radiation therapy do give off radiation, but you cannot “contract” radiation from them like a virus.

  • Is it true that nuclear waste cannot be safely transported?
    Radioactive sign on vault door

    Radiological and nuclear waste/materials can and have been shipped safely for more than 60 years. The U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission test and certify robust shipping containers for the shipment of radioactive and nuclear waste/materials. The packages must be able to pass a series of test to assure their durability.

  • Can a nuclear power plant "blow up" like a nuclear bomb?
    Nuclear power plant cooling towers

    No, nuclear power plants cannot blow up like a nuclear bomb. Nuclear power plants in the U.S. are designed, built and continuously tested to be able to withstand even the most severe accident.

Learn More

Debunk more radiation myths by visiting the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website.

Learn more about the IDHS Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program and how it serves the state of Indiana.