Lead metal is the preferred material for radiation shielding. The reason is that lead is highly effective in providing protection from sources of radiation. Because of this, it is the standard used in the design of radiation protection systems. Lead metal is dense; it can be used against various high-energy applications of radiation, including gamma rays, x-rays, and other types of nuclear radiation.
In theory, other materials can be used for shielding during radiation, but only if the thickness is sufficient to reduce the radiation to safe limits. Because lead metal possesses specific characteristics, it is one of the most valued and trusted of all materials used for shielding. The actual material for shielding will depend on a number of factors, including the ease at which heat dissipates, resistance to radiation damage, decreased levels of radiation, required weight and thickness, shielding permanence, considerations for multiuse, availability, and uniformity capacity.
Lead in metallic form coupled with lead compounds is often used in radiation shielding. High densities of lead meet the main mandate for a material used for this purpose and in certain applications. To shield containers that store radioactive materials, metallic lead is typically used. Anytime extremely powerful radioactive material is handled in hospitals, medical facilities, and laboratories, a remote control robot performs functions controlled from behind a wall of lead bricks to dramatically reduce risk. This is evident in x-ray machines used in hospitals and clinics, which are shielded by either lead foil or lead sheet.
Radiation Shielding Properties
The primary property of lead that makes it ideal as a shielding material is density. However, for radiation shielding, this material possesses other critical properties, such as a high degree of application flexibility, extreme level of stability, and high atomic number. This material is readily available in many forms, including lead brick, lead wool, lead pipe, lead shot, lead sheet, lead-lined or lead-clad pipe, and lead powder.
The bottom line is that lead and lead alloys are excellent materials for radiation shielding. One of the greatest properties of this material is the ease of which people can work with it. For all types of shielding applications, lead performs extremely well. For people who work with or around radiation, lead serves as a protective barrier that creates peace of mind.