The IAEA organized a regional workshop from 22 to 25 April 2014 to assist European region Member States that expect to or have already begun to develop national radon action plans for addressing radon exposure and its potential health effects. Radon has become a topic of growing significance as research shows that high concentrations of radon can have a negative impact on human health.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the Earth's crust and is a natural part of the air people breathe. Researchers have found that inhaling high concentrations of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer, and radon is now considered the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon concentrations outdoors are generally low, while indoors, radon can build up, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. A country may have some areas with high radon concentrations and other areas with low concentrations. Concentrations of radon can be different from one building to another building in the same area.
Though radon can pose a risk, "thanks to research that has been done all over the world... [preventive and corrective] techniques are now discovered, developed, and are on the market," says Jiří Hůlka, a radon expert from the National Radiation Protection Institute in the Czech Republic. He explains that high radon concentrations could be solved with "corrective actions" and highlights techniques such as measuring concentrations and modifying building designs. Such approaches are among the steps being implemented into many national radon action plans.
The four-day workshop provided a forum for more than 30 experts and senior government officials from the European region Member States to exchange information and discuss issues pertaining to developing current and future national action plans.
"A national radon action plan includes various activities to help reduce the exposure of the population to radon," says IAEA Regulatory Standards Specialist, Trevor Boal, who chaired the workshop. These activities were reviewed in workshop sessions and included topics ranging from measuring and surveying radon levels to building codes and protections for controlling indoor radon concentrations to communications techniques and legal frameworks for supporting appropriate actions.
The conclusion of the workshop resulted in a set of measures that outline the basis of a comprehensive national action plan to address and minimize radon exposure and included:
- Conducting a nationwide radon survey to determine radon concentrations and identify radon-prone regions;
- Establishing building codes and protections that define levels and ensure that indoor concentrations of radon are minimized; and
- Raising awareness among key policymakers and the public about radon and its potential health risks.
The workshop was conducted at the IAEA headquarters and was the first general meeting of an IAEA Technical Cooperation project (RER/9/127) approved for 2014-2015 that aims to assist Member States establish and further develop approaches for controlling public exposure to radon. This workshop is among a series of regular events and work done by the IAEA to transfer knowledge and to encourage the adoption of appropriate safety standards and practices to monitor and manage radon exposure.
Radon (isotope 222Rn) is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that usually comes from the soil and is found in the air all around us. It is formed as part of the decay process of uranium. As radon decay products are what can cause the harmful effects to lungs. Radon contributes to around 40 to 50% of the total radiation dose received annually worldwide which makes this natural gas a major source of public exposure to naturally occurring ionizing radiation.
Radon does not have a smell or taste. It is detectable and measurable using sensitive instruments. These can be used to identify radon in a home.
The IAEA works with Member States and various organizations to exchange knowledge and encourage the establishment of safety guidelines for managing and addressing radon exposure.