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It is a big time in a persons life when they are exploring different career fields. When you are in High School your parents and teachers are constantly telling you that you need to start looking for a career. A career is different from a job, a career could require an education or special training and is one’s lifework. That was the first thing that I looked at when it was time for me to decide on a career field. I have always had family that was into the radiation field, and that is when my Father recommended Radiation Protection. It had everything I was looking for in a career, but I didn’t know anything about how radiation protection started, so I did some research. The next several paragraphs are going to explain the discovery of radiation and the history of radiological protection and the jobs available today and their requirments.
Wilhelm Röntgen is the person who discovered it first in 1895, but most importantly he only discovered X-rays. About a year later in 1896 a French physicist named Henri Becquerel was the very first to discover radiation and give it the name “radioactivity”. By the early 1900’s the study of radiation was a widely accepted scientific endeavor. Early on scientists learned that not only was radiation a source energy and medicine, but it could be potentially harmful to people. Many early scientists died from this because of too much exposure to radioactivity.
During World War I, pilot’s airplane instruments were made with radium paint to make them glow in the dark so they would be visible at night. This made everyone catch on; by the end of the war companies were producing watch faces that could glow in the dark. The women who worked for these companies would paint the radium paint onto the watch and lick the end of the brush before they would put the paint on the watch, not knowing that they were swallowing radium and damaging their body. Over a two year period, nine women died from ingesting this harmful chemical. A dentist who treated one of the women discovered the connection between inflammation of the jawbone marrow and the radium paint. This started Radiation Protection around the world.
In 1915 a British Society adopted a resolution to protect people from overexposure to X-Rays. By 1922, American organizations adopted the British protection rules. Through the 1920’s and 1930’s guidelines were developed and organizations were formed to address Radiation Protection. After World War II, the development of the atomic bomb and the development of nuclear reactors, the United States government established policies that deal with human exposure to radiation. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was started and radiation protection was part of the EPA’s responsibility at that time. Today the EPA has a single division called the Radiation Protection Division (RPD). The RPD is responsible for protecting the general public and the environment from radiation exposure.
It might seem like the Radiation Protection field is a dangerous field to enter, but the reality of it is, radiation is all around us no matter where we go. It has been over a century since radiation was discovered and it has given people plenty of time to learn how to prevent a lot of radiation exposure. The people who protect the public and environment from radiation exposure are known as Health Physicists (HP) or Radiation Protection Technicians. People with these job titles can work at Nuclear Power Plants, Hospitals, Nuclear Weapons Plants or work as Environmental Health Physicists. To become a Radiation Protection Technician (RPT) you are going to need a few things.
Most companies require an individual to have less than 1 year experience to 5 years experience and or have an Associate’s Degree in Radiological Protection Technology but training is required in other areas. Some benefits included from working for a company are Health Care, Vision, Dental, Short term and Long term Disability, Accident and Cancer Insurances. Problems that a RPT might face on a daily basis may require the person to have knowledge of radiation biology, biochemistry, physiology and genetics. Academic training alone will not make a person a great RPT, but it is more the hands on practical experience in applying radiation protection principles. By no means is this an easy job.
This type of job has a lot of responsibility. It is possible for an HP to supervise as many as 70 to 80 technicians and professionals, such as chemists and radiochemists. There are some job sites that could require an HP to monitor data for as many as 2,000 permanent site employees daily. Some HP’s assist engineers and scientists to design new facilities and new radiation control programs. One goal is to help people understand the relative degree of risk for radiation exposure.