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The following information is provided to improve awareness and safety when working with radioactive material.  It should be noted that although radioactive material is used quite extensively in the oil and gas industry it is unlikely exposure to any individual will be excessive enough to cause detectable biological damage.  This is not to say that personnel should not use caution when in contact with it.



Radioactivity of a source is usually measured in the units of curies although SI (metric) units are occasionally used.  The following shows the most common units used.




Curie (C)

= 37 gigabequerels (gBq)

Millicurie (mCi = 1/1000Ci)

= 37 megabequerels (mBq)

Microcurie (uCi) = 1/1000000 Ci)

= 37 Kilobequerels (kBq)



Radioactive material is always going through a decay mode and giving off energy.  The amount of energy emitted varies in accordance with the intensity of the source.  It should also be noted that the physical size of the source has no relevance in regards to strength of the source.  Different isotopes decay off faster than others, hence each have a different half life.  (ie. Iridium 192 has a half-life of 74 days and Iodine 131 has a half-life of only 8 days.)



The energy that emits from a radioactive source can cause biological damage; therefore precaution should be taken when in contact with any radioactive material.  The effects in regards to severity vary in accordance with the exposure the individual received.  This exposure known as “dose” is measured in the unit millirem (mR.) and a member of the public is limited to 500 mR. per year.  Radiation survey meters known commonly as geigercounters measure dose rate in mR. per hour.  Example:  If you were exposed to a dose rate of 10 mR. per hour for a period of 2 hours you would receive a dose of 20 mR.



Radiation protection can be achieved by limiting exposure to radiation sources in the following ways.


  1. Limiting the time spent in proximity of the sources will reduce the radiation your body will be subjected to.
  2. Distance from the source is a substantial factor as exposure is reduced inversely.  ie. If at one foot form the source of the dose rate was 20 millirem per hour then at two feet it is only 5 millirem per hour and at three feet it is only 2.2 millirem per hour.
  3. Shielding is another method of reducing exposure.  When the source is giving off gamma rays, lead is the most common and effective shield.



Internal radiation protection can be achieved by taking precautions so that the material does not enter the body.  Adhering to the following procedures ensures safe handling procedures are followed:


  1. Wear protective clothing.  ie Coveralls, gloves, and rubber footwear.
  2. Keep your hands away from your nose and mouth.
  3. Do not smoke while handling material.
  4. Cover all open cuts and abrasions.
  5. Wash hands with warm soapy water immediately after working with material.
  6. Use disposable gloves while working with material.
  7. Wash equipment and protective clothing with soapy water.
  8. Wear respirator if working with a volatile open source.

The above precautions also ensure that the radioactive material is not spread to other areas, which could cause further contamination.



Contamination is the presence of radioactive material in areas where it is not wanted.  Although contamination is usually present in low levels there is still the risk that an individual may inadvertently come in contact with it and allow it to enter the body.  Contamination is measured in counts per minute (cpm) with the use of a special instrument known as a contamination monitor.