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Biological effects of different levels of nuclear radiation on the human body are given in [link] . The first clue that a person has been exposed to radiation is a change in blood count, which is not surprising since blood cells are the most rapidly reproducing cells in the body. At higher doses, nausea and hair loss are observed, which may be due to interference with cell reproduction. Cells in the lining of the digestive system also rapidly reproduce, and their destruction causes nausea. When the growth of hair cells slows, the hair follicles become thin and break off. High doses cause significant cell death in all systems, but the lowest doses that cause fatalities do so by weakening the immune system through the loss of white blood cells.

[1] Multiply by 100 to obtain dose in rem.
Immediate effects of radiation (adults, whole-body, single exposure)
Dose in Sv [1] Effect
0–0.10 No observable effect.
0.1–1 Slight to moderate decrease in white blood cell counts.
0.5 Temporary sterility; 0.35 for women, 0.50 for men.
1–2 Significant reduction in blood cell counts, brief nausea and vomiting. Rarely fatal.
2–5 Nausea, vomiting, hair loss, severe blood damage, hemorrhage, fatalities.
4.5 Lethal to 50 % of the population within 32 days after exposure if not treated.
5–20 Worst effects due to malfunction of small intestine and blood systems. Limited survival.
>20 Fatal within hours due to collapse of central nervous system.

Sources of radiation

Human are also exposed to many sources of nuclear radiation. A summary of average radiation doses for different sources by country is given in [link] . Earth emits radiation due to the isotopes of uranium, thorium, and potassium. Radiation levels from these sources depend on location and can vary by a factor of 10. Fertilizers contain isotopes of potassium and uranium, which we digest in the food we eat. Fertilizers have more than 3000 Bq/kg radioactivity, compared to just 66 Bq/kg for Carbon-14.

[1] Multiply by 100 to obtain does in mrem/y.
Background radiation sources and average doses
Source Dose (mSv/y) [1]
Australia Germany US World
Natural radiation – external
Cosmic rays 0.30 0.28 0.30 0.39
Soil, building materials 0.40 0.40 0.30 0.48
Radon gas 0.90 1.1 2.0 1.2
Natural radiation – internal
40 K , 14 C , 226 Ra 0.24 0.28 0.40 0.29
Artificial radiation
Medical and dental 0.80 0.90 0.53 0.40
TOTAL 2.6 3.0 3.5 2.8

Medical visits are also a source of nuclear radiation. A sample of common nuclear radiation doses is given in [link] . These doses are generally low and can be lowered further with improved techniques and more sensitive detectors. With the possible exception of routine dental X-rays, medical use of nuclear radiation is used only when the risk-benefit is favorable. Chest X-rays give the lowest doses—about 0.1 mSv to the tissue affected, with less than 5 % scattering into tissues that are not directly imaged. Other X-ray procedures range upward to about 10 mSv in a CT scan, and about 5 mSv (0.5 rem) per dental X-ray, again both only affecting the tissue imaged. Medical images with radiopharmaceuticals give doses ranging from 1 to 5 mSv, usually localized.

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Source:  OpenStax, University physics volume 3. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12067/1.4
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