All of us are exposed to nuclear radiation every day of our lives from naturally occurring minerals within the earth, traces of radioactive elements within our bodies and cosmic rays from the sun and stars. These sources are mostly unavoidable. However, you should be concerned about local concentrations of nuclear radiation from uranium mine waste, medical waste, dissolved radioactive elements in the underground water supply, such as radium salts and radon, and wind blown dust and gases from man made radioactive waste around the hundreds of sites dedicated to nuclear power plants, nuclear weapons manufacturing plants and nuclear waste landfills that can effect your health. Radioactive elements are unstable and give off highly energetic charged particles that can damage the genetic blueprint of the living cellyour DNA. Some of the time the cell can no longer function or repair itself and dies, but occasionally the cell multiplies uncontrollably and becomes a cancer. Obviously, the size, energy and penetrating distance of nuclear particles determine the damage to living matter and the number of breaks and changes in the genetic code.

Nuclear particles are forcefully ejected by unstable atomic elements, each with its own preferred method of releasing the overabundance of energy contained in its nucleus. It first must vibrate itself into the proper pattern. If you were to shake a coin out of a piggy bank you would succeed only when the coin and the slot were aligned and moving in the right direction. Although no one can predict when an individual unstable nucleus of the radioactive atom will give up its excess energy, the time it takes for half of a large number of these atoms to decay can be predicted with statistical accuracy. This is know as the half life of the radioactive element. After ten half life periods have passed, less than a tenth of one percent of the radiation will remain. Some half-life times are long enough to require the radioactive source to be isolated from public exposure for decades, centuries or even millennia.

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