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This article lists notable civilian accidents involving radioactive materials or involving ionizing radiation from artificial sources such as x-ray tubes and particle accelerators. Accidents related to nuclear power that involve fissile materials are listed at List of civilian nuclear accidents. Military accidents are listed at List of military nuclear accidents.
Radioactive decay is the process by which an unstable atomic nucleus loses energy by emitting radiation, such as an alpha particle, beta particle with neutrino or only a neutrino in the case of electron capture, or a gamma ray or electron in the case of internal conversion. A material containing unstable nuclei is considered radioactive. Certain highly excited short-lived nuclear states can decay through neutron emission, or more rarely, proton emission.
Ionizing radiation is radiation that carries sufficient energy to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, thereby ionizing them. Ionizing radiation is made up of energetic subatomic particles, ions or atoms moving at high speeds, and electromagnetic waves on the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.
An X-ray tube is a vacuum tube that converts electrical input power into X-rays. The availability of this controllable source of X-rays created the field of radiography, the imaging of partly opaque objects with penetrating radiation. In contrast to other sources of ionizing radiation, X-rays are only produced as long as the X-ray tube is energized. X-ray tubes are also used in CT scanners, airport luggage scanners, X-ray crystallography, material and structure analysis, and for industrial inspection.
In listing civilian radiation accidents, the following criteria have been followed:
Marie Skłodowska Curie was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win the Nobel prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields. She was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.
The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in several categories by Swedish and Norwegian institutions in recognition of academic, cultural, or scientific advances.
Aplastic anemia is an autoimmune disease in which the body fails to produce blood cells in sufficient numbers. Blood cells are produced in the bone marrow by stem cells that reside there. Aplastic anaemia causes a deficiency of all blood cell types: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (rather than oxygen) on exposure to air, forming a black surface layer of radium nitride (Ra3N2). All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226, which has a half-life of 1600 years and decays into radon gas (specifically the isotope radon-222). When radium decays, ionizing radiation is a product, which can excite fluorescent chemicals and cause radioluminescence.
The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint. Painting was done by women at three different sites in the United States, and the term now applies to the women working at the facilities: the first, a United States Radium factory in Orange, New Jersey, beginning around 1917; the facility at Ottawa, Illinois, beginning in the early 1920s; and a third facility in Waterbury, Connecticut.
The City of Orange is a township in Essex County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 30,134, reflecting a decline of 2,734 (-8.3%) from the 32,868 counted in 2000, which had in turn increased by 2,943 (+9.8%) from the 29,925 counted in the 1990 Census.
Denver, officially the City and County of Denver, is the capital and most populous municipality of the U.S. state of Colorado. Denver is located in the South Platte River Valley on the western edge of the High Plains just east of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The Denver downtown district is immediately east of the confluence of Cherry Creek with the South Platte River, approximately 12 mi (19 km) east of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Denver is named after James W. Denver, a governor of the Kansas Territory. It is nicknamed the Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile above sea level. The 105th meridian west of Greenwich, the longitudinal reference for the Mountain Time Zone, passes directly through Denver Union Station.
Ebenezer McBurney Byers was a wealthy American socialite, athlete, and industrialist. He won the 1906 U.S. Amateur in golf. He earned notoriety in the early 1930s when he died from multiple radiation-induced cancers after consuming Radithor, a popular patent medicine made from radium dissolved in water.
Radithor was a patent medicine that is a well-known example of radioactive quackery and specifically of excessively broad and pseudoscientific application of the principle of radiation hormesis. It consisted of triple distilled water containing at a minimum 1 microcurie (37 kBq) each of the radium 226 and 228 isotopes.
Radioactive quackery is quackery that improperly promotes radioactivity as a therapy for illnesses. Unlike radiotherapy, which is the scientifically sound use of radiation for the destruction of cells, quackery involving radioactive substances pseudoscientifically promotes radiation as healthful and healing for cells and tissues. It was most popular during the early 20th century, after the discovery in 1896 of radioactive decay. The practice has widely declined, but is still actively practiced by some.
Clarence Madison Dally was an American glassblower, noted as an assistant to Thomas Edison in his work on X-rays and as an early victim of radiation dermatitis and its complications.
New Jersey is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It is a peninsula, bordered on the north and east by the state of New York; on the east, southeast, and south by the Atlantic Ocean; on the west by the Delaware River and Pennsylvania; and on the southwest by the Delaware Bay and Delaware. New Jersey is the fourth-smallest state by area but the 11th-most populous, with 9 million residents as of 2017, making it the most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states with its biggest city being Newark. New Jersey lies completely within the combined statistical areas of New York City and Philadelphia. New Jersey was the second-wealthiest U.S. state by median household income as of 2017.
France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.
Background radiation is a measure of the level of ionizing radiation present in the environment at a particular location which is not due to deliberate introduction of radiation sources.
Nuclear fallout, or fallout, is the residual radioactive material propelled into the upper atmosphere following a nuclear blast, so called because it "falls out" of the sky after the explosion and the shock wave have passed. It commonly refers to the radioactive dust and ash created when a nuclear weapon explodes. The amount and spread of fallout is a product of the size of the weapon and the altitude at which it is detonated. Fallout may get entrained with the products of a pyrocumulus cloud and fall as black rain. This radioactive dust, usually consisting of fission products mixed with bystanding atoms that are neutron-activated by exposure, is a form of radioactive contamination.
Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is a collection of health effects due to exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. Within the first days symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This may then be followed by a few hours or weeks with little symptoms. After this, depending on the total dose of radiation, people may develop infections, bleeding, dehydration, and confusion, or there may be a period with few symptoms. This is finally followed by either recovery or death. The symptoms can begin within one hour and may last for several months.
The sievert is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units (SI) and is a measure of the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body. The sievert is of importance in dosimetry and radiation protection, and is named after Rolf Maximilian Sievert, a Swedish medical physicist renowned for work on radiation dose measurement and research into the biological effects of radiation.
Radiation dosimetry in the fields of health physics and radiation protection is the measurement, calculation and assessment of the ionizing radiation dose absorbed by an object, usually the human body. This applies both internally, due to ingested or inhaled radioactive substances, or externally due to irradiation by sources of radiation.
Radiation protection, also known as radiological protection, is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "The protection of people from harmful effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the means for achieving this". Exposure can be from a source of radiation external to the human body or due to internal irradiation caused by the ingestion of radioactive contamination.
A nuclear and radiation accident is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "an event that has led to significant consequences to people, the environment or the facility." Examples include lethal effects to individuals, radioactive isotope to the environment, or reactor core melt." The prime example of a "major nuclear accident" is one in which a reactor core is damaged and significant amounts of radioactive isotopes are released, such as in the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.
Radioactive contamination, also called radiological contamination, is the deposition of, or presence of radioactive substances on surfaces or within solids, liquids or gases, where their presence is unintended or undesirable.
The Goiânia accident[ɡojˈjɐniɐ] was a radioactive contamination accident that occurred on September 13, 1987, in Goiânia, in the Brazilian state of Goiás, after a forgotten radiotherapy source was taken from an abandoned hospital site in the city. It was subsequently handled by many people, resulting in four deaths. About 112,000 people were examined for radioactive contamination and 249 were found to have significant levels of radioactive material in or on their bodies.
A radiation burn is damage to the skin or other biological tissue as an effect of radiation. The radiation types of greatest concern are thermal radiation, radio frequency energy, ultraviolet light and ionizing radiation.
Cobalt-60 (60Co), is a synthetic radioactive isotope of cobalt with a half-life of 5.2713 years. It is produced artificially in nuclear reactors. Deliberate industrial production depends on neutron activation of bulk samples of the monoisotopic and mononuclidic cobalt isotope 59
. Measurable quantities are also produced as a by-product of typical nuclear power plant operation and may be detected externally when leaks occur. In the latter case the incidentally produced 60
is largely the result of multiple stages of neutron activation of iron isotopes in the reactor's steel structures via the creation of 59
precursor. The simplest case of the latter would result from the activation of 58
decays by beta decay to the stable isotope nickel-60. The activated nickel nucleus emits two gamma rays with energies of 1.17 and 1.33 MeV, hence the overall nuclear equation of the reaction is 59
+ n → 60
+ e− +
e + gamma rays.
The 1986 Chernobyl disaster triggered the release of substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere in the form of both particulate and gaseous radioisotopes. As of 2019 it is the most significant unintentional release of radioactivity into the environment.
The National Oncologic Institute or ION is a specialized hospital for cancer treatment, located in Panama City, Panama. Between August 2000 and March 2001, patients receiving radiation treatment for prostate cancer and cancer of the cervix received lethal doses of radiation, resulting in eight fatalities.
Radioactive scrap metal is created when radioactive material enters the metal recycling process and contaminates scrap metal.
Radiobiology is a field of clinical and basic medical sciences that involves the study of the action of ionizing radiation on living things, especially health effects of radiation. Ionizing radiation is generally harmful and potentially lethal to living things but can have health benefits in radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and thyrotoxicosis. Its most common impact is the induction of cancer with a latent period of years or decades after exposure. High doses can cause visually dramatic radiation burns, and/or rapid fatality through acute radiation syndrome. Controlled doses are used for medical imaging and radiotherapy.
A radiation accident occurred in Samut Prakan Province, Thailand in January–February 2000. The accident happened when an insecurely stored unlicensed cobalt-60 radiation source was recovered by scrap metal collectors who, together with a scrapyard worker, subsequently dismantled the container, unknowingly exposing themselves and others nearby to ionizing radiation. Over the following weeks, those exposed developed symptoms of radiation sickness and eventually sought medical attention. The Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP), Thailand's nuclear regulatory agency, was notified when doctors came to suspect radiation injury, some seventeen days after the initial exposure. The OAEP sent an emergency response team to locate and contain the radiation source, which was estimated to have an activity of 15.7 terabecquerels (420 Ci), and was eventually traced to its owner. Investigations found failure to ensure secure storage of the radiation source to be the root cause of the accident, which resulted in ten people being hospitalized for radiation injury, three of whom died, as well as the potentially significant exposure of 1,872 people.
Up to 10% of invasive cancers are related to radiation exposure, specifically ionizing radiation. Additionally, the vast majority of non-invasive cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers caused by ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet's position on the electromagnetic spectrum is on the boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from mobile phones, electric power transmission, and other similar sources have been described as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the link remains unproven.