About radiation and radioactive waste
Radiation comes from both naturally occurring radioactive elements left over from the formation of the Earth, and from cosmic radiation.
The use of radioactive materials plays a significant role in everyday life, and offers numerous benefits to society through a variety of applications. It is a natural consequence of using radioactive materials that radioactive waste is generated. These wastes must be managed safely and appropriately.
Amounts of radioactive waste in Australia
Most of Australia's radioactive waste consists of low level and short-lived intermediate level waste. Overall, Australia possesses approximately 3820 cubic metres (m3) of low level waste and 435 m3 of intermediate level waste.
Beneficial uses of radiation
Radioactive materials have a variety of important uses in medicine, industry, agriculture, and sterilisation, as well as in our homes. As with many things, too much radiation can be harmful, so appropriate precautions must be taken when utilising radioactive materials.
Categories of radioactive waste
Radioactive waste is classified by the amount of radiation it emits, on the form of radiation it emits, and on the length of time over which it will continue to emit radiation. Radioactive wastes can be classed into low, intermediate and high level categories.
Naturally occurring radioactive material
Naturally-occurring radioactive materials (NORM) exist in the natural environment. Consequently, mining and minerals processing operations may produce NORM wastes as a by-product to operations.
Radiation exposure can be limited by managing radioactive materials and radioactive waste appropriately through shielding, isolation and disposal of radioactive materials.
- Types of radiation
Radiation is emitted by certain types of atoms, known as unstable atoms, or radioisotopes, which contain too much energy. Over time, these atoms change, or decay, into stable atoms by releasing their excess energy in the form of alpha, beta or gamma radiation.