Comparison of Homogeneous and Particulate Lung Dose Rates For Small Mammals

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Small, highly radioactive fragments of material incorporated into metallic matrices are commonly found at nuclear weapons test and accident sites and can be inhaled by wildlife. Inhaled particles often partition heterogeneously in the lungs, with aggregation occurring in the periphery of the lung, and are tenaciously retained. However, dose rates are typically calculated as if the material were homogeneously distributed throughout the entire organ. Here the authors quantify the variation in dose rates for alpha-, beta-, and gamma-emitting radionuclides with particle sizes from 0.01–150 μm (alpha) and 1–150 μm (beta, gamma) and considering three averaging volumes—the entire lung (64 cm3), a 10‐cm3 volume of tissue, and a 1‐cm3 volume of tissue. Dose rates from beta-emitting particles (e.g., 90Sr) were approximately one order of magnitude higher than those from gamma-emitting radionuclides (e.g., 137Cs). Self-shielding within the particle, which reduces the dose rate to the surrounding tissue, was negligible for gammas and minor for betas. For alpha-emitting particles (e.g., 239+240Pu), self-shielding in larger particles is substantial, with >90% of emissions captured within particles of +20 μm diameter; but for smaller sizes of the respirable range of 0.01 to 5 μm, an average of 85% of the energy escapes the particle and is deposited in the surrounding tissues. These data provide more detail on respirable particles, which may remain lodged deep in the lung where they represent a considerable contribution to long-term lung dose rates. For practical dose rate calculation purposes, a graph of particle size vs. dose rates for plutonium-containing hot particles is provided. This study demonstrates one possible approach to dose assessments for biota in environments contaminated by radioactive particles, which may prove useful for those engaged in environmental radioprotection.

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