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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 20:58 GMT
Radiation-proof fabric developed
Hospital workers in Tokaimura, Japan, wrap a patient in a polythene sheet during a radiation leak in 1999
The fabric might help in the event of radiation leaks
A US company has developed the world's first lightweight radiation-proof fabric, which provides as much protection as a lead vest.

The potential applications of the fabric, called Demron, range from protective suits to radiation-proof tents and linings for aircraft, the magazine New Scientist reports.

Instead of using heavy metals such as lead to block radiation and X-rays, the new fabric is non-toxic, lead-free and sandwiched between two layers of woven fabric.

The new fabric, developed by the Florida-based company Radiation Shield Technologies, is able, say its makers, to block x-rays and gamma rays.

Medical Staff

The fabric was originally developed to protect medical staff from X-ray radiation but its inventors believe it will also be useful in the nuclear industry.

Traditional lead vests offer protection because heavy metals have large atoms and therefore have large numbers of electrons.

When certain types of radiation hit these electrons they are slowed down and absorbed by the metal.

However, gamma rays and X-rays are highly penetrating forms of radiation, which can only be stopped if the electrons in a material are able to absorb enough of their energy.

Electron clouds

Demron is made up of a polyethylene and PVC-based polymer trapped between two layers of an ordinary woven fabric.

The molecules in the polymer have been designed so that any radiation will meet a large electron cloud, giving the impression of large atoms, which will deflect or absorb it.

The nuclear industry has so far reserved judgment on Demron.

Jane Claber of British Nuclear Fuels says: "The potential usefulness of the fabric will depend on the level of protection it offers against gamma and X-rays and how it reacts and degrades when subjected to radiation".

See also:

10 Oct 02 | Health
07 Jun 02 | England
08 May 01 | Science/Nature
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