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Fission and radiation protection

Recommendations on Protection: Dissemination of International Radiation Results – Environmental Radiation Protection

So far, radiological protection recommendations have focused on protecting the human population. No internationally agreed criteria or policies address radiological protection of the environment, and it is difficult to say whether non-human species are adequately protected. Using and disseminating European research results, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) aims to fill this conceptual gap.

Establishing protection for flora and fauna

Although the human habitat has been fairly well protected through the current ICRP system of protection for the human population, there are now other demands on regulators in relation to the environment. These include the protection of wildlife and habitats, the necessity for environmental impact assessments, and the need to harmonise industrial regulation (for example, chemicals are often regulated based on their potential impact on both the human population and wildlife).

However, there is a lack of relevant advice, assessment procedures, criteria or reference data. A common approach and scientific basis is needed to establish an appropriate relationship between exposure, dose, and effect on fauna and flora. The ICRP is a non-governmental non-profit expert organisation in radiological protection - a leader in this area. Its recommendations are the basis of worldwide and European legislation.

A common approach for the radiological protection of humans and non-human species © ICRP
A common approach for the radiological protection of humans and non-human species

Animal and plant reference models

In the case of human radiation protection, the exposure - dose - effect approach has been based on the so-called 'reference man'. ICRP favours a parallel approach for the protection of other species. This can be achieved by the development of a small set of reference animals and plants covering a number of organism types that are typical of the major environments. This approach cannot provide a general assessment of the effects of radiation on the environment as a whole, but it could provide the basis for judgments about the probability and severity of the likely effects of radiation on different organisms.

Information on radiation effects could be set out in logarithmic bands of dose rate relative to natural background dose rates (derived consideration levels). Additions of dose rate below background rates might be of minor concern, but those that are much greater than background rates would be of increasingly serious concern.

Calculated consideration levels

It is essential to base the protection of human beings, animals and plants on the same basic understanding of the interaction of radiation and living tissues. It is also vital to develop a common approach to the protection of humanity and the environment whenever contamination by radionuclides is likely to occur. In such an overall approach, the purpose of the RECOIL project will be to develop the two related areas. Thus, RECOIL will permit the ICRP to develop a set of reference animals, plants and derived consideration levels (DCLs) via funding the drafting, review and dissemination of appropriate reports. These reports will benefit greatly from the results of a previous European Commission Fifth Framework Programme project - FASSET. RECOIL will generate a biological description for each of about 12 types of animal and plant, plus reference data for each. The data sets should include: radionuclide concentrations giving rise to background dose rates; dose models and the means of calculating dose rates to the reference animal and plant types; and information, set out logarithmically, about the effects of radiation on that organism (i.e. the bands within the DCLs).

Environmental management and protection

The RECOIL project will raise a number of related issues, such as radiation quality effects in different organisms; different biological effects resulting from the irradiation of various tissues and organs; and whether this reference organism approach can be applied in practice. All these issues are closely related to another current EC Framework Project (ERICA). Of particular interest will be the extent to which new requirements for nuclear regulators and of those responsible for environmental management generally can be met. Such issues will be taken into account in full in the development of the working reports.

Project website