Natural radiation

We’re exposed to natural radiation all the time – but usually at very low levels.

The sun

The most familiar source of natural radiation is the sun. It produces:

  • infrared radiation, which we feel as warmth
  • visible light
  • ultraviolet light.

Only ultraviolet light is dangerous to us. It causes sunburn, which can lead to skin cancer, and prematurely ages the skin, turning it hard and leathery.

It’s easy to get sunburnt if we don’t cover up when we’re outside. Visit the SunSmart website to learn how to stay safe.

Other sources of radiation

The other sources are:

  • high energy particles and rays from outer space (cosmic radiation)
  • radioactive elements in the earth’s crust (terrestrial radiation)
  • the radioactivity naturally present in our own bodies (internal radiation).

These aren’t normally dangerous to us, because they occur in such low levels naturally.

Cosmic radiation

You are more exposed to cosmic radiation the higher up you get. People such as aircrew repeatedly flying on long-distance flights may be more at risk. Airlines take precautions to protect aircrew from this risk.

Terrestrial radiation

Soils contain traces of radioactive elements, such as uranium and radium. The levels of these elements vary widely. While some areas have higher radiation levels, there is no clear evidence that more people get cancer in those areas.

New Zealand has a relatively low level of terrestrial radiation.

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