I worked in my masters thesis with $^{87}Rb$ and $^{40}K$, really small beta emitters. But there are so many other things around in the lab, that I want to keep track on all the things I might get in contact with.

Is there any computer program to calculate the dose of the whole decay chain to get a picture of the artificial radiation and supports logging. I don't want to look up all the individual numbers and calculate it manually.

Also in my apparatus various clusters (Cr, Ni, Co, Cu, Ag, Pd, Ca....) are produced. E.g. I know chromium(VI) is carcinogen, but the pure metal is not. But in the nanoworld things may change. So is there a database around where I can lookup the toxity of various substances, with an emphasize on nanoparticles? I use nitrile rubber gloves and try to do not inhale something if I clean the apparatus. But this might be not enough precaution. The laser dyes are not healthy too.

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    $\begingroup$ You don't, in general, calculate radiological doses for tracking purposes: you measure them (TLDs or film badges; leaf-electroscope instant read ioniation detectors and so on). Your institution should have a "Environment, Safety and Health" or similar unit that is in charge of these thing and you really, really should talk to them about getting a measurement system in place. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ The limit here is 5mSv/year artificial and natural radiation combined. I do not incorporate the stuff and just clean up the experiment for a new run. Proper monitoring with a pocket dosimeter is the best way, but unfortunately not an option here (things are complicated). $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ However I want to get an overall picture. For example there is a deuterium gas cylinder in an explosive-save gas cabinet next to my lab. Would it be a risk if there is a leakage, and so on ... there are many things around in a lab. By the way I never saw a guy with a dosimeter in the labs I visited. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately this kind of stuff is pretty hard to figure out. MSDSs are so overly paranoid that they are basically useless for determining actual danger. As far as I know deuterium presents no radiological hazard. $\endgroup$
    – user2963
    Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ I've worked at a number of nuclear and particle physics labs, and we did calculate expected exposures when planning various activities (installations, modifications,...) that might result in a higher than usual exposure, but we had no software support. We'd just sketch the situation then estimate times, distances and activities and muddle through. Figure out how to get it done with the least possible exposure and measure the actual exposure when we did it. (One of these resulted in my only quarter where my exposure was not reported as "none detectable".) $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 13, 2012 at 18:20

1 Answer 1


Is there any computer program to calculate the dose of the whole decay chain to get a picture of the artificial radiation and supports logging. I don't want to look up all the individual numbers and calculate it manually.

Yes, there is. MCNP will do dose calculations, among many many other things. It is a stochastic code, meaning it does random flights and interactions of radiation, which would be beta particles in your case. Those are a good bit more tricky to model than gamma rays because they bounce around a lot more and also have continuous interactions as a charged particle.

Radioactive decay is also handled with the MCNP code, but not directly. The national labs use the Monteburns code for this purpose and it is linked with ORIGEN2, although I should specify these can change depending on the version number. You would likely get MCNP5 or MCNP6 if you ordered it now.

In order to use these codes, you may submit a request to RSICC, although ideally you want to have a US university affiliation, you can also obtain it working in industry although probably at a higher price. You also would really need someone on your team with a few years on experience working with these codes.

The cost of accurately obtaining the dose rate numbers will certainly affect that approach you take, as the acquisition of data, even from models, has a very real cost associated with it. It's likely that your lab will not have the budget and you will instead consult a textbook and try to combine rough estimates for the various sources you have.

There are a variety of tools available for managing radiological dose to workers in a lab. In the US we would expect that a lab working with any significant sources would have an ALARA policy, which dictates minimizing exposure through the fundamentals of time, distance, and shielding. In a nutshell, ALARA reflects the precautionary assumption that there is no "safe" dose so any unnecessary or frivolous dose is unacceptable. Modeling, direct radiation detection, and TLD devices are common tools for radiation safety, but these are not necessary for all labs and any combination of these measures may be employed based on the needs of the specific lab. Many sources are low enough hazard that none of these will be employed. However, an understanding of radiation and the types of sources you're working with should come before any of these options. If you are the primary person in your lab responsible for a source and you do not know the hazard level or the appropriate precautions that should be taken for it, then that would be a serious problem and you should consult the management in your organization or the nuclear regulating body in the area in which you reside.

  • $\begingroup$ A full on Monte Carlo for dose estimation...nice. But I've never been in a situation where I'd have felt the need. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ @dmckee Well, obviously it's done for nuclear reactors! That's not all, of course. Think of shielding design in a hospital. Most health physicists are unlikely to do such modeling often, if ever. In the case of the OP, it's probably not needed but they should be able to clearly answer that question, that's all I was getting to. I can understand how someone might get freaked out because they're surrounded by 20 $\mu Ci$ beta sources stored in cabinets, but ideally there would be lab personnel who could clearly explain that it's harmless. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 22:36

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