Tritium Radiobiology and Relative Biological Effectiveness

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During the past decade, a large number of radiobiological studies have become available for tritium-many of them focusing on the relative biological effectiveness of tritium beta rays. These and previous studies indicate that tritium in body water produces the same spectrum of radiogenic effects (e.g., cancer, genetic effects, developmental abnormalities, and reproductive effects) observed following whole-body exposure to penetrating radiations such as gamma rays and x rays. However, tritium beta rays are of greater biological effectiveness than gamma rays and x rays. For example, tritium in the oxide form is about 2 to 3 times more effective at low doses or low dose rates than gamma rays from 137Cs or 60Co. When tritium is bound to organic molecules, relative biological ef fectiveness values may be somewhat larger than those for tritium in oxide form. Tritium administered to animals or to cells in vitro as tritiated amino acids results in relative biological effectiveness values that appear similar to those obtained for tritium in oxide form; however, if administered as tritiated thymidine, the relative biological effectiveness values appear to be about two-fold higher. It is clear from the wealth of tritium data now available that relative biological effectiveness values for tritium beta rays are higher than the quality factor of unity generally used in radiation protection.

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