The Causes and Consequences of Environmental Radioactivity

Radioactive contamination of our environment causes levels of concern unlike almost any other pollutant. In this module, students learn about the mechanisms by which radiation damages the body and the systems by which we measure and control exposure to radiation. They will then study the sources of naturally occurring radioactivity and radioactive contaminants to the environment and their behaviour in the environment, in order to better understand how people can become exposed. Students will develop their understanding and evaluation to the risk to human populations of accidents, such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Through the study of specific radiation-related case studies, students develop their understanding of risk in a wider context, thus being able to contribute more thoughtfully to nuclear-related debates in society. Students will practice and develop their numerical skills, through the determination of radioactive decay. Laboratory classes will be used to demonstrate concepts addressed in lectures, and students will be encouraged to put the data generated into the wider context.

By completing this module, students will demonstrate an ability to identify the sources of natural and artificial radionuclides in the environment, and explain the main processes by which radionuclides are distributed through the environment, illustrating them with examples. Practical experience will enable students to apply the principles of dose assessment to determine the impact of environmental exposure to radioactivity, whilst development of critical skills will allow students to evaluate the consequences of nuclear accidents.