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Natural radiation sources contribute much the largest part of the radiation exposure of the average person. This paper examines doses from natural radiation to the red bone marrow, the tissue in which leukaemia is considered to originate, with particular emphasis on doses to children. The most significant contributions are from x-rays and gamma rays, radionuclides in food and inhalation of isotopes of radon and their decay products. External radiation sources and radionuclides other than radon dominate marrow doses at all ages. The variation with age of the various components of marrow dose is considered, including doses received in utero and in each year up to the age of 15. Doses in utero include contributions resulting from the ingestion of radionuclides by the mother and placental transfer to the foetus. Postnatal doses include those from radionuclides in breast-milk and from radionuclides ingested in other foods. Doses are somewhat higher in the first year of life and there is a general slow decline from the second year of life onwards. The low linear energy transfer (LET) component of absorbed dose to the red bone marrow is much larger than the high LET component. However, because of the higher radiation weighting factor for the latter it contributes about 40% of the equivalent dose incurred up to the age of 15.

Original publication




Journal article


J Radiol Prot

Publication Date





123 - 138


Adolescent, Adult, Background Radiation, Body Burden, Bone Marrow, Child, Child, Preschool, Computer Simulation, Environmental Exposure, Female, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Male, Models, Biological, Radiation Dosage, Radiometry, Young Adult