Nuclear radiation poses a serious health threat to anyone who gets close enough to it. Luckily, hazmat suits are designed to keep radiation out and protect those who wear them from its harmful effects. Or do they? Find out below.
Types of Radiation
- Nuclear radiation (electron, proton, neutron beams)
- Solar radiation (UVA/UVB)
- Electron, proton, neutron beams
- Ionizing radiation (gamma rays, x-rays, alpha or beta particles)
Radiation is delivered in several forms:
- Radioactive contaminated particles
- Radioactive liquids
- Radioactive energy waves and rays
Radiation exposure is a CBRN event (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear)
Why Is Nuclear Radiation So Dangerous?
Nuclear radiation is very dangerous and contact with it should be avoided. It can severely harm the body, mostly due to its deleterious effects on DNA and cell life. The resulting DNA mutations can lead to cancer to form in the human body.
Nuclear radiation occurs in and around nuclear reactors and atomic bomb blasts, where plutonium and uranium atoms are split resulting in radiated beam particles of electrons, protons, and neutrons.
Nuclear radiation can also pass through matter, including protective clothing. The only way to fully protect yourself from nuclear radation is to not be near it.
Are Hazmat Suits Radiation Proof?
No, hazmat suits are not radiation proof against ionizing radiation found in nuclear accidents and x-rays. However, the highest level fully encapsulated hazmat suits (A, B) can protect the wearer from some radiation during short periods of exposure. You want to be very wary of being near ionizing radiation without protective gear, and try to minimize the time spent near it. Low-level everyday radiation is generally harmless and a hazmat can protect the wearer from these.
Whether a hazmat suit can protect the wearer from radiation depends on the type of hazmat suit being worn. Hazmat suits are used during emergencies with radioactive material to prevent the spread of radioactivity. These hazmat suits are valuable protective gear for first responders, workers who must enter radiation areas and nuclear power plant employees. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires employers to provide hazmat suits for such workers.
What Type Of Hazmat Suit Is Radiation Proof?
The only way to stay protected from radiation when near it is to wear a high level hazmat suit with additional components. Although nothing will fully protect you from the highest levels of radiation (nuclear, x-rays), proper PPE can minimize it by preventing direct contact with the body (skin, eyes) or through inhalation.
The recommended hazmat suit setup for radiation exposure protection includes:
- A fully encapsulated suit
- A self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) attached (oxygen or compressed air supply, air-purifying respirator, P-100 or higher HEPA filter)
- Fully enclosed head and face area with a clear visor
- Optional radiation vest or apron
- Thick rubber gloves and boots taped to the suit or attached to it.
- Personal radiation dosimeter
Highly Rated Fully Encapsulated Hazmat Suit
A fully encapsulated hazmat suit with SCBA breathing apparatus will require extensive training to make sure the wearer knows how to operate it and move. Direct-reading dosimeters will allow the wearer to be alerted to excessive radiation levels. Respiratory protective equipment must be able to protect from radioactive particles. Simple N-95 respirators or facemasks are not enough to keep the wearer safe.
Radiation protective aprons are not entirely effective against high levels of x-ray and gamma radiation and may also be cumbersome wear. A Level B or Level A hazmat suit can provide radiation protection for short durations. Radiation resistant gloves, shoes, or boots will also need to be worn if the suit is not fully encapsulating on its own.
Looking for a new HAZMAT suit? Check out our our Hazmat Suits Buying Guide for some good tips on buying your next one.
Hazmat Suit Radiation Standards
The following international standard covers the requirements and testing of PPE for radioactive emergencies:
- EN 1073-2:2002 – Protective clothing against radioactive contamination Requirements and test methods for non-ventilated protective clothing against particulate radioactive contamination
Do Radiation Proof Hazmat Suits Exist?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Radiation Emergency Medical Managament, hazmats cannot protect from high energy, highly penetrating forms of ionizing radiation.
Hazmat suits can only protect from direct contact with radioactive particles that may touch the skin, hair, eyes or enter the body through breathing. So, if you are standing near a nuclear reactor or x-ray machine, a hazmat suit will not fully shield you from ionizing radiation.
Will A Hazmat Suit Protect You From Radiation?
Yes, high level hazmat suits will help protect the wearer from radioactive isotopes from touching or entering their body. However, ionizing radiation can still get through the hazmat material and cause damage to the body.
If you are ever exposed to radiation while wearing a hazmat suit, it will need to be disgarded in the proper way.
For more information, see our post How to Dispose of a Hazmat Suit.
Are Hazmat Suits Worn In Nuclear Power Plants?
Nuclear power plants are very dangerous places to work. The biggest reason is that a nuclear accident or meltdown may occur. The containment vessel must be closely monitored to prevent this from happening. In order to reduce the risk of radiation exposure, hazmat suits are worn in nuclear power plants to protect personnel from potentially harmful areas.
A nuclear power plant should have warning signs posted throughout the facility as to which safety PPE should be worn and when.
Are Hazmat Suits Worn By Nuclear Weapons Inspectors?
Nuclear weapons inspectors must enter facilities that may have nuclear materials inside, either stored or in processing. In order to ensure their safety, inspectors wear hazmat suits when required.
UP NEXT: How To Dispose of a HAZMAT Suit?
A hazmat suit must be chosen carefully when the wearer will be exposed to any form of radiation. Not all hazmat suits provide similar protection. Also, in a nuclear emergency personal protective equipment should only be used as a last line of defence.