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Name: Eric Levin
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Question:
My question is regarding the myths about nuclear waste storage. What are the real dangers, if any?
If you live in a town with a storage site, is there any real danger?



Replies:
Thanks for your note. Just briefly, radiation in any amount is harmful to the human body. The level of harm varies with the level of radioactivity, its nearness to the body, and whether the body is shielded from the radioactivity.

For example, when you visit the dentist, they usually give you a "lead vest" before taking x-rays, and they do not take any more of them than they need. The are "safe" limits which have been established by the government, and normal medicinal x-rays should not exceed that limit. That level of radiation is ow, brief, and you are at least partially shielded from it. On the other hand, if you were living on top of a nuclear waste dump without knowing it or without protection it would be another matter entirely. This is why all waste areas of hazardous materials are clearly marked and are generally far off from population areas. The materials are stored to be safe from leakage into the environment. Naturally a major concern would be to insure this material could not leak into an aquifer or a city's water supply and accidentally enter the drinking water. Since the effects of radiation are cumulative, we must all take care to limit our personal exposure. Frequent airplane flying, frequent x-rays, exposure at work for those who work with radiation, all when added up, must still stay within the limit of safety set by the government.

One recent new area of concern in the area where I live (eastern Pennsylvania) is radiation from a gas called Radon which is a normal decay gas of natural radioactive material occurring in the ground. The area called the Reading Prong, which extends up to the area where I live, is a spacial area where this gas can possibly enter homes through cracks in cellar floors, etc, and possibly build up to dangerous levels in homes. I have heard statistics that for an home seriously affected, the potential harm to a human could equal that of smoking many CARTONS of cigarettes PER DAY!. Fortunately there is now a test which can be done within homes in the reading prong or anyone concerned about Radon gas which is easy and quite inexpensive. The test involves placing a collector chemical in the area to be tested for a period of time; the collector is then sealed and sent to the lab for analysis. If it is determined that there is a dangerous level of radon gas present, it is recommended to the homeowner to purchase some sort of ventilation system for getting rid of the gas (since it is radioactive). The house is then retested to make sure that it is within government safety limits. As you can see, with these "natural" sources of radiation around us, we all need to be informed to be sure we are keeping ourselves within the safety limits set by the government.

Rickru



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