Radiation Safety

Excerpt from the IAEA Annual Report for 1994

Programme overview

The major event during 1994 in the radiation protection programme was the completion, and adoption by the Board of Governors, of the new International Basic Safety Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources. The Standards are now in the process of being formally adopted by the other co-sponsoring organizations, namely FAO, ILO, OECD/NEA, PAHO and WHO. These new Standards are considerably more comprehensive than the previous standards and cover the basic responsibilities and obligations for the protection of people and the safety of sources in all fields of application. Specific requirements apply to public, occupational and medical exposures, to the safety of sources and to intervention in accidental and chronic situations.

Prompted partly by the adoption of the new Basic Safety Standards, a review of all Safety Series documents (including, in particular, the Agency's Transport Regulations and supporting publications) relevant to radiation safety was started to check for consistency with the new Standards and to identify omissions or duplications.

A conference entitled Radiation and Society: Comprehending Radiation Risk, held in October in Paris, brought together specialists from many disciplines to discuss problems related to the comprehension of radiation risk. At the conference the difficulty of expressing scientific facts relating to radiation health effects in a form useful to non-specialists was underlined and insights were gained into the barriers to better comprehension. It was clear that further efforts to promote communication of radiation risk in relation to other risks are needed.

As part of a move to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of technical support for the technical co-operation programme for radiation safety, a system of 'country officers' has been instituted. Each officer will be responsible for a limited number of countries, usually grouped in a geographical region, and will maintain an overview of the radiation safety situation in each country.

At the request of the Government of Kazakhstan, missions were undertaken to assess the current environmental and radiological situation at the former nuclear weapons test site of Semipalatinsk. This is part of a growing concern over rehabilitation of large contaminated areas. The developing situation with respect to the rising incidence of thyroid cancer in children who were irradiated as a result of the Chernobyl accident has been closely monitored and preparations have started for a major interagency conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the accident at which the health consequences will be summarized.

Basic Radiation Safety Policy

Developing basic principles, criteria and standards for radiation safety

New International Basic Safety Standards for Protection against Ionizing Radiation and for the Safety of Radiation Sources were completed and approved by the Board of Governors. They are now undergoing formal approval by the other co-sponsoring organizations, namely FAO, ILO, OECD/NEA, PAHO and WHO. The new Standards reflect the 1990 recommendations of ICRP Publication 60, as well as subsequent developments, and replace the Agency's Basic Safety Standards, which were based on the ICRP 1977 recommendations and published in 1982. The new Standards cover the basic responsibilities and obligations for the protection of people and the safety of all sources. Detailed requirements applying to public, occupational and medical exposures, to the safety of sources, and to intervention in accidental and chronic circumstances are given.

The adoption of the new Basic Safety Standards has provided an impetus for a review of all Safety Series documents relevant to radiation safety. The aim is to check for consistency with the new Standards and to identify omissions or duplications. This is intended to form the basis over the next few years for systematic revision or replacement of existing documents and the creation of new documents.

“Radiation and Society:Comprehending Radiation Risk” was the title of the first major international conference on the comprehension of radiation risk. Held in October in Paris, the conference consisted of technical sessions reviewing the current status of scientific knowledge concerning radiation risk and case studies which examined those risks not normally considered within this body of knowledge. One of the conclusions was that further efforts were needed to promote a proper understanding of radiation risk as compared with other types of risk. The first volume of the conference proceedings was published in 1994 as background material.

Education and training in radiation protection

Pilot courses in English and French for the programme on education and training in radiological protection and nuclear safety were run during 1994, based on a standard syllabus prepared and published in the six official languages of the Agency. The courses are intended to meet the educational and initial training requirements of graduate level staff with a few years of experience, or staff who are designated to take up positions in radiation protection.

Occupational Radiation Protection

Providing support and guidance for occupational radiation safety

Development began of an information system on occupational exposures (ISOE), operated jointly with the OECD/NEA. The goal of the system is to stimulate the exchange of data on methods for the reduction of radiation exposure in nuclear power plants. Data on occupational exposure has been collected from China, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Mexico and has been included in the ISOE database.

Providing support and guidance for workplace and individual monitoring

Safety Series documents on the use and management of personal protective equipment in radioactively contaminated environments and on assessments of internal doses to the public from ingested radionuclides were completed and are expected to be published in 1995.

In order to support the forthcoming expected decommissioning and dismantling of old nuclear facilities, the Agency, in co-operation with the ILO, has initiated the preparation of specific guidance on requirements for the occupational radiation protection programmes needed to support these operations. A Technical Committee reviewed and revised the first draft report.

Radiation Protection of the Public and the Environment

Modelling and monitoring of the environment

In the context of a programme initiated at the end of 1993 to collect and review environmental monitoring data (CREM), with the collaboration of UNSCEAR and WHO, work has started on the development of a database which will include external radiation levels and radioactivity concentrations in atmospheric aerosols, precipitation, drinking water, groundwater, surface water, sea water, selected bio-indicators and food items under normal conditions.

Assessment and control of radon exposure

Progress has been made in the development of revised guidance, which will be linked to the new Basic Safety Standards, on the control of radon in workplaces other than underground mines. At the same time, the necessary revisions to guidance on radon in underground mines are also being developed. Preparation of a technical document on the quality assurance of radon measurements continued in order to improve the quality of measurements and facilitate the international intercomparability of data. The results of a CRP provided useful experience in this connection.

Safe Transport of Radioactive Material

Maintenance and implementation of the Agency's Transport Regulations

The Standing Advisory Group for the Safe Transport of Radioactive Material (SAGSTRAM) met in March to advise on the priority of work for the transport safety programme, focusing on the task of comprehensively revising, through a Revision Panel, the Agency's Transport Regulations in 1996. At the meeting endorsement was given to the incorporation of a system of radiological protection that is consistent with the new Basic Safety Standards. The Revision Panel met in October to discuss the preparation of a second draft of the Regulations for distribution to Member States for formal comment in January 1995. The Panel considered the input from two Technical Committee meetings: on radiation protection matters, held in June, and on the air mode, held in August, as well as six meetings utilizing consultants services held during 1994. As a result of this major effort, the revision process is almost complete. The second draft will include the more stringent regulatory requirements for packaging used to carry large amounts of radioactive material by air.

Several tasks associated with the implementation of the Regulations were completed in 1994. A training manual was translated into Russian and Spanish with publication scheduled for early 1995. A training video on the safe transport of radioactive material which complements the policy document published in 1993 was produced. Also, an electronic version of Safety Series Nos 6, 7, 37 and 80, called HYPERTRANS!, was released by the Agency. This tool provides users of these publications with an easy method to search for text and follow the extensive cross-referencing within the documents.

A CRP on the development of probabilistic safety assessment techniques related to the safe transport of radioactive materials was completed. A computer program, called INTERTRAN-2, was prepared to assess the safety of transporting radioactive material. The program can be run on a PC, and a supporting manual will be published. To improve the underlying data set of INTERTRAN-2, a follow-up CRP was established to analyse relevant accident data.

The maritime transport of radioactive material continues to be the subject of debate within bodies such as the IMO. A newly established CRP on accident severity at sea with particular reference to fires on board ships will contribute to the review of the joint IAEA/IMO Code of Practice for the Safe Carriage of Irradiated Nuclear Fuel, Plutonium and High Level Waste on Board Ships.

Emergency Planning and Preparedness

Emergency assistance services

Work continued on maintaining and improving the capabilities of the Emergency Response Unit and the overall effectiveness of the Agency to respond to a nuclear accident or radiological emergency. These activities included:

At the request of the Estonian Government, the Agency provided medical and radiological assistance for an emergency situation involving the overexposure of several individuals resulting from the theft and mishandling of a radioactive source. One individual died and several others received very high exposures.

There was continued effort to sustain and upgrade co-ordination and co-operation with other United Nations organizations which would have a role to play in responding to a nuclear accident or radiological emergency. These activities included:

Safety of Radiation Sources

Design, control and safe use of radiation sources

A project proposal was approved at the regular session of the General Conference in September to direct efforts to assist Member States in the prevention of further accidents involving radiation sources. This will initially focus on large industrial irradiators with the compilation of an inventory of such irradiators, the collection of design and safety information and the provision of safety assessment services. Work has started on the implementation of this project.

A major collaborative project with WHO to produce a series of five training manuals on aspects of the medical uses of radiation has been essentially completed. The manuals are being reviewed prior to publication by WHO. Work has also continued on the production of Practical Radiation Safety Manuals and the development of computer based training assessment modules to accompany them.

Provision of information on radiation sources

An international reporting system, including a database, on unusual events involving radiation sources was designed in 1994. The reporting system will collect global information in order to learn from incidents and events relevant to radiation safety. The system will be implemented in 1995.

The Sealed Source Registry was finalized; this provides computer software for compiling the inventory of radiation sources in Member States.

Radiation Safety Services

Radiation Protection Advisory Team (RAPAT) services

The only specific RAPAT mission carried out during the year was made in conjunction with a WAMAP mission to Saudi Arabia. However, a number of missions of a similar type were mounted under a joint IAEA/UNDP programme for the improvement of radiation protection, nuclear safety and waste management infrastructures for countries of the former USSR.

A major field evaluation of the effectiveness of RAPAT and WAMAP missions was carried out for four countries in the Asia and Pacific region. One of the conclusions was that a more systematic procedure was required for monitoring and providing assistance in the implementation of recommendations. Accordingly, a system was set up involving country officers who would be responsible for assembling and maintaining current information on the radiological protection infrastructure of a country and using it to provide the most appropriate assistance.

Laboratory services

The Agency continued to routinely monitor more than 400 of its staff categorized as radiation workers (external dose exposure and internal contamination monitoring). There were no cases of internal or external overexposure. As in the previous year, all individual doses were maintained far below the annual dose limits.

Individual monitoring services continued to be provided to Member States and co-operation with WHO continued. Approximately 9000 dosimeters were distributed and 1000 finger dosimeters were sent to Member States.

Radiological Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident

Promoting research and development on Chernobyl related issues

Support was continued for the United Nations International Co-operation on Chernobyl. In particular, a major effort was undertaken to collect precise information on the increased incidence of thyroid cancers among children in Belarus, Ukraine and the Russian Federation.