Reviewing the Question of Low-Dose Radiation

(February 2021)

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Executive summary

The latest scientific studies show that any risk associated with low doses and low dose rates of radiation is extremely low, if it exists at all. Any cancer risk from low-dose radiation is too small to be distinguishable from the natural cancer rate. In fact, the very low risks associated with such dose levels make it very difficult to measure any health impacts, despite long-term radiation health effects having been extensively studied for over 100 years.

However, there is dissonance between the very low, if any, health risks of low-dose radiation, and the health risks perceived by the general public. History has shown that the socio-economic and psychological impacts of the fear of radiation far surpass any radiological impacts from low-dose radiation. Any actions taken during a radiological event (e.g. sheltering, evacuation, or relocation) should therefore be considered holistically, with the health and safety risks associated with the countermeasures themselves weighed against the radiological risk.

The regulatory burden from unnecessarily low release criteria and low radiation dose limits – achieving, at best, minor decreases in exposure levels, and negligible or no health benefits – imposes a significant cost to companies and governments alike. This is especially evident when comparing regulatory limits for radioactive material release from nuclear power plants with those from other human activities responsible for significantly higher dose levels to the general public, most notably coal power plants.

Further stringency in regulation, coupled with misconceptions about radiation, would directly affect the extent to which nuclear power can be used to provide clean, affordable, and low-carbon electricity. While no human activity is totally risk free, the very low risks from nuclear power are greatly outweighed by the benefits it provides.

The current radiation protection system needs careful review using the latest scientific knowledge and riskbased considerations to ensure it reflects the actual risks. Therefore, World Nuclear Association calls for:

  1. Regulations to be aligned with the latest scientific knowledge on low-dose radiation and the (re) calibration of the ALARA principle, by considering them as part of a wider “all-hazards approach”, including long-term socio-economic impacts.
  2. No new reduction in regulatory radiation dose limits and release criteria, unless proven to result in a measurable reduction of health risks proportionate to the associated cost.
  3. The radiation protection community to communicate about the absence of any discernible effects associated with low-dose radiation.