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SOUL

Fission and radiation protection
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Southern Urals Radiation Risk Research: Quantifying Risk in the Urals

The Mayak Worker and Techa River Cohorts in the Southern Urals are internationally recognised as being emerging major sources of information on health risks associated with significant exposure to radiation. The main goal of the Southern Urals Radiation Risk Research (SOUL) project is the exploration and quantification of health risks due to chronic exposures to plutonium, strontium and external radiation.


The late effects of prolonged radiation exposure

Techa river in Southern Ural
Techa river in Southern Ural
Current radiation protection standards are based on risk estimates extrapolated from high to low dose, low doserate exposures and from acute to protracted exposures. However, studies of populations exposed as a consequence of past operations at the Mayak nuclear plant may provide more direct information on the longterm health effects of protracted radiation exposures. The objective of the SOUL project is to quantify the risks of late health effects associated with protracted low-dose rate exposure to plutonium, strontium and external gamma radiation for nuclear workers at Mayak and residents close to the Techa River in the Southern Urals. SOUL's findings will form the basis for reducing the uncertainty about health effects from protracted exposures.

SOUL is a multidisciplinary project involving dosimetrists, operational health physicists, statisticians and epidemiologists. The partners contribute detailed experience on radiation dosimetry and dose reconstruction, and on the design and analysis of studies of health risks. The research is being fully coordinated with the parallel initiative between the Russian Federation and the United States, which is guided by the Joint Coordinating Committee for Radiation Effects Research (JCCRER).

Anticipated activities: improved measurement of dose and effects

The research activities in SOUL include improving the quality of dosimetric data for members of the Mayak Worker and Techa River Cohorts. Key dosimetric elements are electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) measurements of tooth enamel, photon spectra measurements, luminescence measurements of absorbed doses in bricks, measurements of strontium distribution in teeth, fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) measurements of chromosome aberrations, and modelling of internal doses to the foetuses and infants. Relevant data sources on dosimetry, mortality and medical follow-up for Mayak workers will be augmented, validated and pooled to improve risk assessment for cancer and non-cancer effects and current knowledge on the early pathogenesis of plutonium-induced lung cancer. The cause of death registers for the Techa River Cohorts will be extended and health effects will be analysed.

Four subprojects will specifically examine:

  • external dosimetry for the Mayak Worker Cohort
  • internal dosimetry, dosimetry system and health effects for the Mayak Worker Cohort
  • dosimetry for the extended Techa River Cohorts
  • health effects in the Techa River Cohorts.

New data on exposure and risk

The work on dosimetry in SOUL will produce improved dose databases, Mayak Doses 2008and Techa Doses 2008, by applying the most up-to-date experimental methods of retrospective dosimetry. The Mayak Worker Cohort will be investigated to improve current knowledge on exposure-related mortality and morbidity from circulatory diseases (such as myocardial infarction and stroke), cancer incidence and pathogenesis of lung cancer. The study of circulatory diseases will also be a focus for the Extended Techa River Cohort. Cancer and cardiovascular disorders following exposure occurring prenatally and/or early in life will be studied in the Techa River Offspring Cohort.

The project on the Mayak Worker Cohort and the Techa River Cohorts will provide a direct and highly relevant contribution to considerations of whether current standards require revision in light of possible late health effects. The results of this research will facilitate the estimation of cancer and noncancer morbidity and mortality risks, provide new knowledge on radiation-associated diseases, formulate scientifically based guidelines on radiation-associated diseases, and help national and international commissions in the continued assessment of total health hazards due to radiation exposure.

Better protection for society

The anticipated results should improve international radiation protection standards for protracted exposures, which is the most frequent form of occupational and population exposure in society. It is hoped that radiation risk coefficients will be obtained for the first time for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases following protracted exposures to both external radiation and plutonium over a wide dose range. The work will improve radiation risk estimates (for example, for a wider spectrum of health effects, giving more precise doses, biodosimetry information, etc.) and assist the development of new regional, national and international standards of radiation safety and protection.

SOUL is expected to provide significant input to the understanding of radiation risks. It will also support future research on radiation risks in the Southern Urals.

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