β-radiation is one of the types of radioactive radiation characterized by a much greater penetrating ability than α-radiation.

Nature has created some radioactive elements able to emit only β-rays, for example, tritium (3Н or Т), which is one of hydrogen isotopes.

The world exists among a multitude of artificially created radiation sources along with natural radioactive background.

Man-made accidents at civilian nuclear facilities: Three Mile Island NPP in the USA, Fukushima-Daiichi NPP in Japan, Chornobyl NPP in Ukraine caused uncontrolled release of radionuclides to the environment. As a result, the content of isotopes that are β-emitting radionuclides, such as cesium isotopes (137Cs, 134Cs), strontium isotopes (90Sr), 3H and some others, has increased by a thousand times.

How does beta radiation affect humans?  

When β-particles fall onto human skin, they can cause burns of tissues. The degree of damage in this case depends on the duration of exposure, its intensity and structure of the tissue. Open areas of the body and eye membranes suffer the most.

Significant damages may be obtained by internal organs in case of intake of β-emitting radionuclides. This can cause ionization of molecules, damage to organic complexes and DNA. Prolonged intake of significant amount of β-particles or single intake of a very high dose may cause death.

Protection against β-radiation

When it comes to people whose professional activities are related to β-radiation sources, certain rules of conduct are envisaged for their protection and minimization of negative consequences.

  • The main protection against β-radiation is to reduce its intensity by removing the source to the largest possible distance and by reducing the duration of contact with the source.
  • Special clothing, glass shields, plexiglass, sheet aluminum and other metals will help to protect against external impact of β-rays.
  • Special protective means (respirators, bandages) will help to protect internal organs (lungs, gastrointestinal tract) from β-particles. Limiting the consumption of contaminated water and food will also be effective.

First aid for external exposure and intake of beta particles

  • Immediately leave the danger zone and undergo dose control;
  • Take off clothes and shoes;
  • Provide contaminated special clothing for further decontamination;
  • In case of skin contamination, it is necessary to treat the affected area with detergents and rinse with water;
  • During first 30 minutes or 1 hour after intake of beta-particles, it is needed to take drugs stimulating the vomiting reflex and laxatives;
  • Then it is necessary to use sorbents and eat food accelerating the metabolism of the body.

The therapeutic effect of beta rays

Like other types of radiation, β-rays are widely used in medicine.

Special applicators emitting β-rays may be applied on affected skin areas. Intra-tissue β-therapy is used to treat malignant tumors, since its effect is achieved by destructive action of β-rays on pathologically altered tissues. Radioisotope diagnostics is also used in medicine to detect tumors.

Uatom.org Editorial Board