Person wearing a yellow biohazard suit in a decontamination shower against an industrial background.

On April 26, 1986, an accident at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant caused some 350,000 people to flee their homes as thick plumes of radioactive material spewed into the sky, according to the World Nuclear Association (opens in new tab). Upon evacuating, they would have had to decontaminate their clothes, bodies and any items to avoid being exposed to and spreading toxic radioactive substances. Later, the surrounding region would have to be cleaned up as well.

But how do you decontaminate objects and people that have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation? To answer that question, it’s important to understand the basics of how radioactivity works.

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