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Radiation Protection Technicians

History

All forms of energy have the potential to endanger life and property. This potential existed with the most primitive uses of fire, and it exists in the applications of nuclear power. Special care must be taken to prevent uncontrolled radiation in and around nuclear power plants. Skilled nuclear power plant technicians are among the workers who monitor and control radiation levels.

Around 1900, scientists discovered that certain elements give off invisible rays of energy. These elements are said to be radioactive, which means that they emit radiation. Antoine-Henri Becquerel, Marie Curie, and Pierre Curie discovered and described chemical radiation before the turn of the century. In 1910, Marie Curie isolated pure radium, the most radioactive natural element, and in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry for her work related to radiation.

Scientists eventually came to understand that radiation has existed in nature since the beginning of time, not only in specific elements on Earth, such as uranium, but also in the form of cosmic rays from outer space. All parts of the Earth are constantly bombarded by a certain background level of radiation, which is considered normal or tolerable.

During the 20th century, research into the nature of radiation led to many controlled applications of radioactivity, ranging from X-rays to nuclear weapons. One of the most significant of these applications is the use of nuclear fuel to produce energy. Nuclear power reactors produce heat that is used to generate electricity.

Scientists are still trying to understand the biological effects of radiation exposure, but we know that short-term effects include nausea, hemorrhaging, and fatigue; long-range and more dangerous effects include cancer, lowered fertility, and possible birth defects. These factors have made it absolutely clear that if radiation energy is to be used for any purpose, the entire process must be controlled. Thus, appropriate methods of radiation protection and monitoring have been developed. The radiation protection technician's job is to ensure that these methods are employed accurately, safely, and consistently.

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