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Radiation Effects and Sources

What is Radiation? What does Radiation do to us? Where does Radiation come from?

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This publication is based on the major scientific reports of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) published in the last 25 years and aims to expand public knowledge on levels of exposure to ionizing radiation and possible associated effects. This publication does not set, or even recommend, radiation safety standards, rather, it provides information on basic science related to radiation (origin, quantities and units), on radiation effects (on humans and the environment) and on radiation sources (natural and artificial). Helping the public understand what radiation is and how it affects life on this planet lies within the core mandate of UNEP.

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What is Radiation?

To be able to talk about the levels, effects and risks of radiation exposure, we first need to address some basics of radiation science. Both radioactivity and the radiation it produces existed on Earth long before life emerged. In fact, they have been present in space since the beginning of the universe and radioactive material was part of the Earth at its very formation. But humanity first discovered this elemental, universal phenomenon only in the last years of the nineteenth century and we are still learning new ways of using it.

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