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  • Dhruv Kamani

The Nature of Radiation

The current Russia-Ukraine War has sparked quite a bit of controversy but, perhaps, the most frightening news occurring is that the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, which had an infamous meltdown in 1986, has been further damaged with the potential of radiation leakage. This leads to the question: what exactly is ‘radiation’?

Radiation is simply just the transmission of energy in the form of waves and particles. You must have commonly heard of some common forms of radiation like alpha, beta, and gamma, which cause damage to humans when exposed to them. These radiations are emitted by radioactive elements like uranium, plutonium, and thorium. Radiations are actually of many different types as well, dependent on their wavelength. For instance, heat, ultraviolet, gravitational, and blackbody radiations differ in their nature and properties but are common in the sense that they all carry enormous amounts of energy. Radiations are normally transmitted in three ways – waves, particles, and waves and particles at the same time. Waves are perturbations in space that can pass through many solid objects, while particles are radiations that move in the form of matter travelling at high velocities. Electromagnetic radiations, such as light, act as both waves and particles simultaneously.

We use electromagnetic radiation almost everywhere in our everyday life, but high energy radiations like the ones used in nuclear power plants pose a great threat to human life if not controlled properly. Major accidents like the Chernobyl plant explosion and the Fukushima Power plant meltdown have proved, time and time again, how we should never underestimate the power of radiation. Radiations damage the human body by damaging the DNA strands and causing various types of mutations. Long term exposure can result in acute radiation poisoning which shows its effects in future generations because all changes then become genetic.

The threat of radiation is a present and clear danger and not only for those residing in and around Chernobyl. Depending on the potential damage that may arise during the ongoing war, it is likely to impact not only surrounding countries but the world at large too!

The electromagnetic spectrum depicted above shows the wavelengths of all radiations. Larger wavelengths correspond to low energy, and smaller wavelengths have more energy.

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