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IAEA to Develop New Standards for Radiation Protection and Safety in Existing Exposure Situations


Representatives from radiation safety regulators and technical support organizations discuss inputs as part of wider efforts for the development of the new Safety Guide during a regional workshop in Zimbabwe, April 2023. (Photo: O. Guzmán López-Ocón/IAEA)

As the application of ionizing radiation in diverse fields such as healthcare, industry, energy and agriculture continues to expand, radiation protection measures must also evolve to keep people and the environment safe from ionizing radiation. In response to increasing demand from its member countries, the IAEA is now developing a Safety Guide for the control of ‘existing exposure situations’.

“For the first time these situations will be comprehensively covered in a single publication,” said Hildegarde Vandenhove, Director of the IAEA Division of Radiation, Transport and Waste Safety. “The guidance will further support a consistent, harmonized approach to radiation safety in managing these types of exposures.”

People have always been exposed to small amounts of radiation from natural radioactive elements in rocks and soil, from outer space in the form of cosmic rays, and from radionuclides found in various goods such as fertilizers and building materials. These circumstances, and others involving artificial sources of radiation, fall under the category of existing exposure situations — types of exposure that already exist when a decision on the need for control needs to be taken

Other instances that will also be covered in the Safety Guide include exposure from areas contaminated with radioactive material from nuclear or radiological incidents and accidents, or exposure in the context of industrial processes such as metal extraction techniques, oil and gas drilling, and coal mining. These processes can lead to increased concentrations of radionuclides present in minerals and raw materials, which in turn may increase the risk of exposure to workers, the public and the environment.

The publication, titled Radiation Protection and Safety in Existing Exposure Situations, is currently being drafted by the IAEA and experts in the field. When ready, the draft will be sent to the IAEA Safety Standards Committees and all IAEA member countries for comments, before being submitted to the IAEA Commission on Safety Standards for endorsement. Once approved, the Safety Guide will be issued under the authority of the IAEA Director General.

Working with the end user

The IAEA has worked in direct consultation with the industry workers who seek this guidance, to plan and shape the content: more than 100 nuclear professionals from 71 countries participated in a series of workshops held in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Latin America, from August 2022 to April 2023, to identify gaps in existing guidance and challenges in the management of existing exposure situations.

“The workshops provided valuable insight to tailor the forthcoming publication to the needs of regulatory authorities and others responsible for managing existing exposure situations,” said Olvido Guzmán López-Ocón, Head of the IAEA Radiation Protection Unit who is coordinating the publication’s development.

Participants called for assistance on, among other things, increasing public awareness of exposure to radon, a naturally radioactive gas that can infiltrate buildings from the soil and elevate the risk of exposure, and on enhancing regulatory oversight of consumer goods that may contain small amounts of radioactive material, such as some fertilizers and food.

Analia Canoba, Head of Scientific and Technical Support at the Argentine Nuclear Regulatory Authority, said, “the future Safety Guide will help countries to implement legal frameworks in a structured way, and to apply protection strategies towards a global standard of safety for existing exposure situations.”

The IAEA Safety Standards reflect an international consensus on what constitutes a high level of safety and protection for people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation. Safety Guides, one of three sets of publications that constitute the IAEA Safety Standards, provide recommendations on how to comply with the Safety Requirements, which must be met to ensure radiation protection of the public and of the environment. The Safety Fundamentals set out the safety objectives and principles of radiation protection and safety.

Once published, the Safety Guide would join the approximately 115 IAEA Safety Standards publications in supporting countries to comply with the IAEA Safety Requirements, including General Safety Requirements No GSR Part. 3 on Radiation Protection and Safety in Existing Exposure Situations.

Read more about the IAEA Safety Standards.

Last update: 19 Dec 2023

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