Ever since radiation was discovered, people have benefited from its use in medicine and industry. Today, man-made sources of radiation globally account for about 21% of our total exposure (Figure 1).1 In industrialized countries it can be as high as 50% due to better access to medical imaging.
Radiation used in medical applications is the largest source of man-made radiation that people in the industrialized countries are exposed to. The majority of this exposure is from diagnostic X-rays, which are used by physicians to determine the extent of disease or physical injury. In the field of nuclear medicine, radioactive compounds called radiopharmaceuticals are also used to support diagnoses, while a further source of radiation exposure is radiation therapy.
Other sources of man-made radiation include products such as
- building and road construction materials
- combustible fuels
- X-ray security systems
- fluorescent lamp starters
- smoke detectors
- luminous watches
- ophthalmic glass used in spectacles
- and some ceramics.
We are also exposed to radiation, albeit to a lesser extent, from the nuclear power cycle. This includes activities such as uranium mining and milling, some minimal exposure from the transportation of radioactive materials, fallout from nuclear weapons testing and reactor accidents (such as Chernobyl and Fukushima).
On average, our radiation exposure due to all natural sources amounts to about 2.4 mSv a year – though this figure can vary significantly, depending on the geographical location.2