The Future of Radiation Protection

Keeping the ICRP Recommendations Fit for Purpose

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has embarked on a review and revision of the system of Radiological Protection that will update the 2007 general recommendations in ICRP Publication 103. This is the beginning of a process that will take several years, involving open and transparent engagement with organisations and individuals around the world.

As part of this process ICRP held a digital workshop that took place 14 October to 3 November 2021. This included two live sessions per day on 19-20 October 2021 as well as 43 on-demand presentations that were available from 14 October to 3 November 2021. Recordings of all four sessions and all on-demand presentations are presently available on the ICRP website.

The workshop was extremely well organised and access to the material presented is readily available, is wide ranging and will obviously require time and effort to digest by the Commission. It will also require a great deal of discussion at national and international levels as well as amongst the relevant sectors involved in the use of ionising radiations, concerning what proposals and comments should be implemented in any revision. As can be imagined, the scope and range of views on what is and is not relevant to an international framework for radiological protection that attempts to cover all industrial and medical applications is significant; hence the timescale of several years earmarked for this process.

Two potential stress points that might arise within the review process concerns the weight of historical precedent that already exists within the fabric of ICRP and its role in providing accepted guidance on Radiological Protection. One aspect which was highlighted during discussions that took place at the workshop was the fact that radiological radiation protection legislation, which has been enacted worldwide is based largely upon the existing system of Radiological Protection. Consequently, any significant changes to the system could lead to an overhaul of legislation at both national and international levels. Such an action could incur significant costs as well as time for modifications and implementation. Countries with limited resources would be most affected. Since a high proportion of active members of ICRP are employed by government agencies, such a possibility will no doubt form part of any strategic discussions on what are deemed to be acceptable changes.

Another point that could influence any discussions concerns the significant body of supporting guidance documents that ICRP has already produced since its inception in 1928. Whereas the rate at which guidance documents were produced was quite modest in the early days rapid acceleration in the numbers of publications has occurred over recent decades. Thus, in the 1970’s some 14 publications were produced by ICRP, whereas in the period 2000 to 2009 this had risen to 30, corresponding to roughly 2.5 per year. In the period 2020-2021, 8 publications have already appeared. Overall, since 1928 the Commission has produced roughly 113 publications. Whilst earlier publications have already been superseded, any significant changes in the system of Radiological Protection could possibly render some of the documents produced in the modern era redundant to a greater or lesser extent. Such a possibility will no-doubt also impact upon the discussions that will occur.

The potential for growth in publications created by ICRP in the future is supported by the fact that there are now 25 Tasks Groups discussing specific topics in Radiological Protection, which will often lead to a report. Topics range from “Reference Animal and Plant (RAP) Monographs” (Task Group 99) to “Effects of Ionising Radiation on Diseases of the Circulatory System and their consideration in the System of Radiological Protection” Task Group 119.  Will all or some of the more recent documents be relevant, following any revision of the system of Radiological Protection?


Radiological Protection in Veterinary Practice

The Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is seeking comments on the draft report on Radiological Protection in Veterinary Practice. The report is intended for a wide-ranging audience, including radiological protection professionals, veterinary staff, students, education and training providers, and members of the public as an introduction to the issues surrounding radiological protection in veterinary practice.

The report does indicate that the priority of radiological protection in veterinary practice is that of humans involved, but the animal’s exposure should also be the object of explicit attention because like human, animals are subject to potential tissue reactions or stochastic effects resulting from exposure to radiation.

Ethical issues are of particular interest within the framework of radiological protection in veterinary practice, namely to whom should the veterinarian’s primary responsibility be: to the animal, or to the animal’s owner? Especially since in many countries, a person may hold “property rights” over animals, thus implying that they may own animals as private goods, make use of them for economic gains, and dispose of them in a manner deemed “fit” within the law.

Whilst considerations of animal welfare in respect of the use of ionising radiation in veterinary practice must be commended, such considerations need to be placed in the broader context of the much greater risks arising from the damage to our eco-system caused by climate change. According to the World Wildlife Fund global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinctions this century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that a 1.5°C average rise may put 20 – 30% of species at risk of extinction. If the planet warms by more than 2° C, most ecosystems will struggle.

ICRP would do well to engage with other aspects of human activity that may involve more significant risks to humans, animals and our environment in order to create a holistic perspective on risks and benefits from the use of ionising radiation in relation to these other activities. This is especially vital given the “social sensitivity” that is associated with ionising radiations.


Dr Mike Moores, Director