Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) includes every clothing, headgear, and accessories that are worn to protect wearers, and prevent severe injury and illness from exposure to radioactive rays. PPE radiation protection is a priority for workers, first responders, and indeed anyone who comes in contact with radiation of any type. Workers and visitors to nuclear power plants need this especially in cases of emergency.
The International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) identifies three major exposure situations. They are:
- Emergency exposure: This is an unplanned, unexpected, and mostly sudden situation that exposes people to radioactive rays that require urgent shielding and protective measures.
- Existing exposure: This refers to exposure situations already in existence when a decision on control has been taken. This could be from naturally occurring radioactive materials in the environment around us.
- Planned exposure: This refers to exposure situations for which protection can be planned in advance to reduce the magnitude, and extent of exposure and minimizes contact to people.
In a nuclear plant, mostly from naturally occurring radioactive materials, exposure may occur as a result of some reasons that are broadly classified as accidents, or sabotage. When there is a risk of exposure, it is crucial for people around to have suitable personal protection. Exposure to radioactive rays in nuclear plants is dangerous; so much research and papers have been presented on effects. Radiation toxicity, also called Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS), is an acute illness that occurs when a high dose of penetrating radiation in a very short time, or by irradiation of the entire body, causes irreversible damage to the bone marrows.
Personal protective equipment is designed to shield the sensitive parts of the body from radiation. Full-Body protection cannot be offered because any equipment offering that would be very thick, heavy, and immovable. An ideal PPE should have the following key features:
- Waist, hip, and groin covering: These regions are very important for protection as they are the most radio-sensitive parts. The hip bones contain the bone marrow which manufactures blood cells.
- Dosage monitor: A dosage monitor is a very important part of a PPE. A dosage monitor indicates the level of radioactive rays already absorbed and the wearer can track this to stay within a healthy range.
- A lead bead pillow to absorb radioactive rays.
- A dosimeter film
- Magnetic closures
- Adjustable belts
The latest trend in personal protective equipment design is to make them capable of protecting stem cells in specific tissues in an effort to prevent Acute Radiation Syndrome. This is because patients are usually treated using stem cells from donors. This advancement in design allows for a new class of lightweight protective equipment that shields the areas with a high concentration of bone marrows.
First responders and workers in nuclear plants now have access to PPE radiation protection using modern designs. However, care must be taken to get suits that can absorb specific radioactive rays. While some suits are purported to absorb every kind of ray, in practice they absorb only light rays. It is best to check properly before purchase.