How is radiation protection provided?
The conceptual framework for radiation protection, as proposed by the ICRP, provides a basis for operational criteria and guidance applicable to specific situations (e.g., nuclear power, medical radiation therapy, chronic exposure to natural radiation) developed by international intergovernmental organisations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA). Essentially, all countries incorporate ICRP concepts in their radiation protection regulations and practices.
Radiation protection concepts, however, can only be implemented through an effective infrastructure which includes adequate laws and regulations, an efficient regulatory system, a well structured complex of experts and operational provisions. It is also essential to establish an attitude and behaviour shared by all those involved with protection responsibilities, from workers through management levels, which ensures that protection and safety issues receive the attention warranted as an overriding priority. This attitude and behaviour is sometimes called a safety culture.
In general, national legislation establishes a regulatory authority empowered to issue regulations, authorise a registration and/or licensing of sources, conduct inspections and take enforcement actions. While the regulatory authority is empowered and responsible to the public for discharge of these functions, registrants and licensees bear prime responsibility for the safety of the sources in their possession. They are responsible for establishing a safety culture within their organisation and are responsible for ensuring safety of their workers and members of the public with regard to their operations. Others, such as designers, manufacturers and constructors have professional and legal responsibilities that are also significant to safety.
A fundamental component of radiation protection linked to the infrastructure is the availability of adequate measurement equipment and techniques as well as modelling and assessment methods and software. These are well developed for most situations. It is also expected that the evolution of these protection technologies will continue with gradual improvements in instrumentation, modelling, assessment methods and quality control, in parallel with developments in fields such as electronics, environmental studies and the nuclear industry in general.
With respect to the quality of radiation protection infrastructures, there is a significant diversity of situations throughout the world. The OECD countries generally have well established infrastructures for radiation protection, with exhaustive and regularly updated regulations, strong and competent regulatory bodies, adequate operational protection and emergency response structures, and advanced research institutions as well as adequate measurement and assessment technologies. There are obvious variations in the level and size of these infrastructures, linked to the different levels of radiation and nuclear power applications in the various countries, but, as a whole, the standard of radiation protection across the OECD area appears good and sometimes excellent. This conclusion is supported by trends showing significant dose reduction in many practices through diligent application of the optimisation of the protection principle in several OECD countries. The situation is much more uneven in the rest of the world. Beside countries where the infrastructure and the standard of protection are fully comparable with those of the OECD countries, lie a large number of countries which do not have a sufficient or even a significant infrastructure for radiation protection. This is due to a lower degree of economic development or the presence of significant political instability and, in several cases, to severe shortage of resources where priorities are assigned to more pressing societal needs.
The new International Standards for the Protection Against Radiation and the Safety of Radiation Sources (BSS) developed through a joint effort by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the IAEA, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the OECD/NEA, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) provides a set of conceptual and applicative recommendations appropriate for developing protection regulations and operational requirements. The BSS will provide valuable guidance in establishing improving national radiation protection infrastructures where they are not presently adequate.