Radioactivity

Michael L Torrie torriem at chem.byu.edu
Thu Feb 22 09:45:35 MST 2007


On Thu, 2007-02-22 at 09:25 -0700, Daniel C. wrote:
> On 2/22/07, Charles Curley <charlescurley at charlescurley.com> wrote:
> > Well, you're already radioactive. But being exposed to enough
> > radiation can increase your own radiation. That's in addition to the
> > other damage that radiation can cause. For most people, most of the
> > time, it isn't an issue. If the old BYU reactor was properly run and
> > cleaned up, it shouldn't be an issue. I've never heard of anyone
> > refusing to play squash at the University of Chicago.
> 
> So, my real question - does irradiating food to sterilize it make the
> food itself radioactive, or increase its radioactivity?

Nope.  You're confusing your terms here.  There are different forms of
radiation.  When I go outside, I am bombarded with a full spectrum of
radiation.  Everything from radio waves to UV to visible light to IR.
It's all hitting me.  This is called RF radiation.  It can cause
ionization of tissues at certain wavelengths, and has been known to
denature DNA, sometimes causing cancer (UV).  But it doesn't make you
radioactive.  Something is radioactive, typically, when it emits
particles like neutrons, alpha particles, etc (the matter is breaking
down).  Some of these emissions of particles can make substances they
touch radioactive too.

When your food is irradiated, it simply uses lots of RF radiation at
certain frequencies to kill bacteria.  This is not unlike a microwave
(different wavelengths though) heating food.  There are radioactive
substances involved in the machines that generate the RF radiation
needed to irradiate food, though.  That's because radioactive substances
often can be used to produce certain wavelengths of RF.  But that has
nothing to do with the food.  There are a few people out there that
don't understand that and spread much FUD over this issue.  Some
prominent authors even.

The military first experimented with irradiating food, as they wished to
find a way to make food store for many years.  So they first
experimented with rats.  The rats were fed a steady diet of irradiated
food and water for several weeks or months.  They were healthy and
showed no ill effects.  Then one day a worker somehow accidentally fed
them non-irradiated food and water.  The rats all died within hours.
The reason they died is left as an exercise for the reader.

Michael




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