Ionizing Radiation

Radiation is energy coming from certain atoms in the form of invisible particles or rays.

Our exposure to radiation comes from both natural and man-made sources. Whether natural or man-made, radiation’s effect upon living tissue is identical. In the human body, energy from radiation — also called “ionizing radiation” — may damage or kill cells. The higher the radiation dose the greater the risk.

Radiation exposure is measured in units called millirems — one thousandth of a rem. Every year each of us in the United States receives about 360 millirems of ionizing radiation from natural and man-made sources. The amount varies depending on how and where we live.

Natural sources of radiation account for about 295 of those 360 millirems, or about 82 percent of the total. They include doses from naturally-occurring radioactive radon gas in our environment, radioactive elements in our bodies and the soil, and cosmic radiation from space.

Man-made sources of radiation account for the remaining 65 millirems, about 18 percent of our yearly exposure. They include doses from medical and dental x-rays, nuclear medicine, consumer products, occupational exposure, weapons testing fall-out, and nuclear power plants. Of our total exposure each year, less than 0.1 percent, one-third of one millirem, comes from the country’s nuclear power plants.

When the radiation exposure is controlled and kept to a minimum, such as with medical or dental x-rays, nuclear medicine or monitored occupational exposure, the benefits well outweigh any risks.

If an accident were to occur at a nuclear plant, exposure to radiation is possible if the accident were severe enough. A nuclear explosion cannot happen in a nuclear generating plant, but radiation exposure resulting from a breach of the various boundaries that separate us from the radioactive material in the plant is possible. If this did happen, protection of the public in the areas surrounding the plant might require evacuation of homes, schools and businesses. If you were to be in an affected zone, your county officials would recommend what action to take and communicate this information to you via the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

The decision by your county officials to recommend evacuation would be based upon the projected amount of radioactive material released and/or the duration of the release. Officials at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant and the Texas Department of State Health Service Radiation Control Program would recommend to county officials what protective actions they consider best to protect the health and safety of the public.

If you are interested in learning more about radiation and nuclear power, you’re invited to visit the Comanche Peak Visitors Center at the power plant, located on Farm Road 56 five miles north of Glen Rose. The visitors center has displays and exhibits that explain how nuclear energy generates electricity.

Please call 254-897-5554 for an appointment.