Background radiation

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Background radiation is constantly present in the environment and is emitted from a variety of natural and artificial sources. Primary contributions come from:

  • Sources in the earth. These include sources in food and water, which are incorporated in the body, and in building materials and other products that incorporate those radioactive sources;
  • Sources from space, in the form of cosmic rays;
  • Sources in the atmosphere. One significant contribution comes from the radon gas that is released from the Earth's crust and subsequently decays into radioactive atoms that become attached to airborne dust and particulates. Another contribution arises from the radioactive atoms produced in the bombardment of atoms in the upper atmosphere by high-energy cosmic rays.

Naturally occurring sources are responsible for the vast majority of radiation exposure. However, about 3% of background radiation comes from man-made sources such as:

Contents

Natural background radiation

Natural background radiation comes from two primary sources: cosmic radiation and terrestrial sources. The worldwide average background dose for a human being is about 2.4 millisievert (mSv) per year.[1] This exposure is mostly from cosmic radiation and natural radionuclides in the environment (including those within the body). This is far greater than human-caused background radiation exposure, which in the year 2000 amounted to an average of about 5 ╬╝Sv per year from historical nuclear weapons testing, nuclear power accidents and nuclear industry operation combined,[2] and is greater than the average exposure from medical tests, which ranges from 0.04 to 1 mSv per year. Older coal-fired power plants without effective fly ash capture are one of the largest sources of human-caused background radiation exposure.

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