Answer to Question #8043 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Accelerators — Radiation shielding

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


If heavyweight concrete (say 3.84 g cm-3) is called for in a shielding application, are there advantages to using magnetite/hematite (iron ore specific gravity = 4.7) vs. steel scrap (steel shot, punchings, etc., specific gravity = 7.0)? Will one provide better attenuation than the other? Other than costs are there advantages with the iron ore vs. steel? This would be a gamma-ray linear accelerator medical cancer treatment shielding application.


Typically concrete that is used for shielding has a density of about 2.35 g cm-3. Iron or aggregates containing iron such as magnetite (Fe3O4) or hematite (Fe2O3) are added to concrete to increase its density. The effective atomic number of the concrete also increases and the combined effect is an increase in attenuation. The density of iron is 7.85 g cm-3. The photon cross-section of iron in g cm-2 is greater than that of concrete except for a narrow band around 1 MeV (1.6 x 10-13 Joules). So for all practical purposes density scaling of the concrete tenth-value layers for the primary barrier of a therapy linear accelerator is acceptable and is conservative for high-energy bremsstrahlung (> 5 MV). It is not conservative for the lower energies. Thus the form of the iron that is added to the concrete does not impact the attenuation of high-energy bremsstrahlung as long as it is mixed uniformly with the concrete. Therefore the question that you should really be asking the concrete contractor is which form of iron provides better uniformity of mix. The smaller the iron pieces, the easier it is to achieve a homogeneous distribution.

The mixing and pouring of high-density concrete is an art and should only be undertaken by those who are experienced in the process. For example, if mixing and pouring procedures are not properly controlled, the high-density aggregates could sink to the bottom. There are several vendors who specialize in providing high-density concrete products.

Nisy Elizabeth Ipe, PhD, CHP

Answer posted on 28 January 2009. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.