|INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION ON RADIOLOGICAL PROTECTION
COMMENTS ON DRAFT ICRP-2005 RECOMMENDATIONS
SIERRA CLUB, NATIONAL WASTE COMMITTEE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NUCLEAR WASTE
Please accept the following comments, submitted on behalf of the Sierra Club in the United States, on the Draft for Consultation, ICRP-2005 Recommendations. An opportunity to present our views on the important subject of radiological protection is appreciated. We ask that the ICRP give them serious consideration and then revise and strengthen its recommendations in ways that reflect our public-interest suggestions.
The comments first address the ICRP’s summary of its recommendations, followed by some of our suggestions that would avoid the weakening of radiation protection in this present version and would instead strengthen the Final ICRP-2005 Radiological Protection Recommendations.
Comments on ICRP-2005 Summary of the Recommendations
From the perspective of our organization, which is dedicated to protection and restoration of the quality of the earth’s environment, and to the well-being and survival of all species, there is concern that the health of our finite planet is increasingly adversely affected by the production, uses, and disposal of various toxic materials and technologies, including radioactive materials and wastes. Because full understanding of the biologic impacts of exposures to ionizing radiation remains incomplete, the wisest course of action, that we can offer to all advisory and decision-making entities involved, is adoption of the Precautionary Principle. We respectfully so recommend.
Aim of the Recommendations (S2-3): Despite the statement that “there is no major problem identified with the practical use of the present system of protection in normal situations....” the present system does have certain shortcomings. a) It fails to maximize protection for portions of an affected population. b) It may prove insufficient to meet demands of abnormal situations that formerly were believed to be highly improbable (e.g., terrorist attacks). c) It appears that the extent of protection will be worsened by adoption of some of the ICRP-2005 recommendations. These include allowance of substantially higher doses during and long after attack or accident, and also the exclusion of low activity radioactive materials and wastes from regulatory control. The latter change will allow the spread of ever more low-level radioactive substances that carry the potential
for long-term undermining of public health.
We need to better incorporate the fact that the totality of all releases from all sectors of the complete nuclear energy production and utilization system – from the mining of uranium ore to waste management (with intentional or inadvertent releases) -- adds to the worldwide burden in excess of the natural background radiation levels. These are the levels within which all forms of life have evolved. The experiment of using the atom for many purposes is essentially a little less than one century old. Some observers have begun to conclude, in view of our combination of knowledge and relative ignorance, that the better part of wisdom, is to try to minimize, if not prevent, augmenting the planetary radiological burden.
Some of these issues, and others in the proposals, are addressed in the following comments.
Principles of Protection: Constraints and Optimization (S4-11): Use of dose constraints (dose limits) in combination with optimization of protection should improve the regulatory process and outcomes. However, to the extent that the upper limits of permissible annual effective doses to the public are increased (100 mSv; 10 rem) and a lower exclusionary effective annual dose limit is established (0.01 mSv, 1 mrem), overall protection is weakened, not improved (Table S1). To the extent that measures to reduce radiation doses are utilized, the optimization process is applauded.
We caution that the effective involvement of stakeholders in U.S. regulatory and other decision processes has been mixed. From a public- interest perspective, the intent is laudable but in actual practice it is less than successful. This is in part because, nearly always in our experience, the composition of stakeholder groups is seriously unbalanced, with the public’s interests under-represented, or ignored, or entirely excluded.
The situation is worsened by decision-makers’ interpretations of cost/benefit and risk analyses that omit critical factors from consideration. One example would be inclusion of financial costs of safety for proponents of the nuclear industry but exclusion of health-related and other economic costs that are borne by affected members of the public. Another example would be the continued use of Standard (or Reference) Man to represent the physical conditions and characteristics of all others – from embryo and fetus to infirm elderly – in the assessing ability to withstand or recover from radiation insult.
Exclusion of Radiation Sources (S12): The focus of radiation protection must be on the total dose that an individual receives. Each individual is exactly that: an individual whose experience is not that of a theoretical composite individual. For the person, a total annual exposure will consist of doses, small or large, that come from many different sources. Regulatory practice (ICRP’s “simplification classes”) currently does not identify, include, and add together all of those doses that are received by the individual from all sources. Rather, the regulatory focus is on the sources whence the doses come. It is the individual human being, of whatever age and in whatever state of health, who is the recipient of the amounts of unrequested (unauthorized, if you will) radiation exposure that the ICRP or law or regulatory agency deem to be acceptable and that radiation regulators permit -- source by source.
The focus belongs on the dose recipient not the sources of the doses. Exclusion of low-level sources from any regulatory control, and ignoring their radioactive content and contribution to an individual’s total exposure is essentially tantamount to assuming that those low activity sources are not radioactive at all. But they are contributing to a total exposure above background that may result in injury in the form of illness and premature death. Place the focus where it belongs: on the individual recipients with their varying total exposures from multiple, additive sources of differing composition and concentrations, external and internal.
Moreover, low-activity levels of contaminated objects or sources with which an individual is in contact may well be within the normal range of variability -- low level but nonetheless additive and significant if numerous. It is not possible for the recipient (or physician) to detect and add up all such small but cumulatively significant exposures. Given the repeated efforts in the past quarter century of regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere to deregulate low activity materials and wastes and to allow, or encourage, their recycle and reuse in a host of consumer products (that are not identified as having radioactive content), it is evident that the total additional low doses received by individuals will not be, and cannot be, accounted for in the estimates of total annual exposures. This failure will be true of occupational as well as the public’s doses. This, this practice violates the intent of ALARA. It is a return to the discredited concept of a “safe threshold” dose. It does not serve the interests of the affected public. ICRP is therefore urged to withdraw the proposal for exclusion. For the same reasons, exemption of low-level radioactive materials and wastes should be discouraged or prohibited.
Effective Dose (S13-17): Internal doses have long been ignored or under-estimated in the field of radiation protection. (Karl Z.Morgan, various statements, Busby, et al.) To the extent that estimates, means, or averages are utilized to develop and apply weighting factors in calculating effective doses, they do not necessarily represent actual tissue or organ doses that an individual may receive. There is disagreement among researchers concerning, in particular, the appropriate radiation weighting factor to be applied to alpha particles, fission fragments, and heavy nuclei. The significance of this debate lies in the role of internal doses that are composed of alpha emitters in causing greater biologic damage, and in the use of dose averaging over organs and tissues. The ICRP could elect to improve the conservatism of its 2005 Recommendations by according greater importance to the effects of internal exposures. The Commission could also recommend that the quality factor for internal emitters be increased above the current relative biological effectiveness value of 20. Some researchers suggest an increase of one or more orders of magnitude for the RBE.
Framework for Protection of Non-human Species(S18-18): The Commission is supported and applauded in its recognition, at long last, of the need to provide radiation protection for species other than man. The task is formidable. It is especially positive that the ICRP is planning to develop dose-response protection at various levels, ranging from molecular to whole organism. It seems suitable that the use of “reference species” of animals and plants should be applied to the first steps in the process of developing appropriate release and dose limits. However, much additional research will be required, and far more detailed analyses of the enormous variety of species, in order for ICRP to craft the appropriate and effective international standards and controls that will provide needed protection for the biota of the environment. This undertaking will, in the process of protecting other organisms, also augment the effectiveness of the standards that are promulgated to protect man. This vast project is long overdue.
However, there is a caution: the level of generalization inherent in use of “reference species” must not be extended in regulatory action beyond its limited ability to address varying natures and needs of the subcategories within each of the reference species. This limitation is comparable with Standard Man used to represent accurately the nature and needs of woman, child, fetus, etc.
Intended Use of ICRP Recommendations (S20-21): National and sub-national governments should adopt those recommendations that will minimize radiation exposures, but they should avoid those (such as the return to the concept of a “safe threshold”) that adoption of the proposed 1 mrem, 0.01 mSv per year exclusion from regulations represents. All measures that will, in practice, contribute to more complete and certain radiation control and that will assure the minimization of exposures are supported.
It is important that the Commission also urge national and sub-national regulators not to be constrained by ICRP recommendations from enacting even more restrictive regulations and guidance to create more stringent standards as particular situations may require. For instance, populations with high incidence of various debilitating or life-threatening conditions may require even more restrictive exposure limits than ICRP suggests. Tighter standards may be required in regions having heavy concentrations of non-nuclear polluting industries – or higher than average background radiation, or residual contamination from radiological accidents, or the spread of depleted uranium in war zones, or previous nuclear industries. Sub-national governments may need to be assured that they have the authority to provide such extra protective measures. The ICRP and other international authorities must not preempt that right of others also to provide protection.
Within the context of the observations above, the ICRP’s primary aim must be considered to be flawed. Questions: What is, and who decides what is, “an ‘appropriate’ level of protection”? How does ICRP define “desirable human actions and lifestyles”? On what bases is “a lifestyle that increases radiation exposures” justified in comparison with fatalities resultant from radiation exposure? Is a scientist, especially one allied with the topic at issue, the most appropriate person ”to make [ethical] value judgments [on] the relative importance” of various risks, or to balance risks and benefits? Are these not issues for the body political composed of those who are exposed and physically or economically affected by the decisions? The Commission appears to deny or to shift much responsibility for such considerations. The public needs to know ICRP’s answers to the questions posed here.
Additional Major Recommendations for ICRP-2005:
Detailed comments on the full text of the “Draft for Consultation” and our numerous suggestions might overburden the ICRP by their length. Instead of submitting them in detail, we are including, below, summary comments on some of the most urgent issues that we’re asking the ICRP to consider, reconsider, and incorporate in a revision of its draft recommendations.
Radiological protection requires that all radioactive materials and wastes be the objects of concern, and regulators must try to assure that all be subject to control, rather than deregulated.. In this regard, the ICRP should reconfirm that there is no “safe threshold” radiation exposure.
Therefore, the ICRP should not recommend either exemption or exclusion of any level or type of exposure from regulatory control. In addition to strict regulation of nuclear industries, especially weapons and power reactors, more attention should also be directed toward accounting for the dose contributions from naturally-occurring in situ sources of exposure that may be adding appreciably and differentially to the doses otherwise received by specific at-risk populations. We urge an ICRP recommendation that deregulation of nuclear materials, wastes, and practices be prohibited.
Many of the presently unregulated technologically-enhanced naturally-occurring radioactive (TENORM) sources should, to the extent possible, be identified and brought under regulatory control.
Those who generate, utilize, and/or profit from these radioactive materials and activities have a financial (and ethical) obligation to assure their sequestration from people and other inhabitants of the biosphere for the full duration of their hazardous lives --and pay for the isolation. An obvious addition concern on the part of the Sierra Club is the improbability of any civilization enduring long enough to be able to accomplish such a responsibility. (Nuclear waste disposal remains an unresolved problem -- a consequence of the military and commercial rush to use the split atom.)
It is time to retire “Standard Man” as the surrogate for all those people who are unlike him. Replace him in standards-setting with the concept that it is the “most sensitive individuals” in exposed populations who require maximum protection. These are the ovum, embryo, fetus, all women, the elderly, and persons with health impairments.
In addition to fatal cancers and gross genetic effects in the first subsequent generations, the ICRP should now incorporate into its standards recommendations all of the deleterious impacts of radiation exposures that are now being identified. Particular attention should be directed to protecting vulnerable people with respect to the differential mechanisms and manifestations of damage from internal emitters. Although it has long been understood that internal emitters posed continuous repetitive irradiations in the body, their impacts have not been fully considered in formulation of dose limits. Those were based primarily on the data available on external exposures, in particular the data from the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission.
Additional Major Recommendations for ICRP-2005:
ICRP needs to determine total doses to an individual by adding up all that are received from each of its arbitrary “exposure classes” (occupational, medical, and public – “all other”). Address the totality of impact represented by the multiple, additive, cumulative, and synergistic sources of exposure that comprise the total dose..
Encourage research into -- and give particular attention to the effects on subject individuals of -- the interactive effects of radiation doses with exposures to the multiplicity of other toxic materials that have been introduced into the environment. Attempt to understand how they may impact on one another – and how in combination they affect the individual recipient of external and internal exposures.
In order for ICRP to conform with the Precautionary Principle, the Commission should give greater credence to contemporary research results in the realm of radiation microbiology. Those studies are now identifying mechanisms of radiation-related impacts at the cellular, molecular, and DNA levels, rather than relegating these findings to the status of insufficiently confirmed studies that might be considered at some future time. Research has now established well enough the higher radiation risks associated with genomic instability and bystander effect to merit their incorporation into ICRP’s recommendations. (Wright, Kadhim, Mothersill and others). See also the 2003 Report of the European Committee on Radiation Risk and the quite conservative CERRIE Report (2005) and separate CERRIE Minority Report (Busby and Bramhall, 2004).
Encourage both more research attention to low-level radiation impacts (especially ingestion and inhalation impacts on organs and tissue) and recommend more and earlier incorporation of these findings into regulations and guidance.
Assure that the work of the newly forming ICRP Committee 5, which is going to be reviewing radiological impacts on non-human species, is not hampered by excessive reluctance of the Commission to recommend strong standards protection. We are very far from knowing what species of plant or animal (or what condition of the whole biosphere) may be essential to our own well-being or survival. The biota are, of course, deserving of protection in their own right.
Two longstanding maxims of radiation protection have been: (1) that the recipient of doses in excess of naturally-occurring background radiation should receive a benefit from the exposure that is greater than, or at least commensurate with, the additional risk incurred; and (2) that the recipient of a dose which is additive to background should have the right and ability to decide to accept or reject it. These principles are of special significance in the realm of nuclear medicine, but they apply also to other exposure sources that originate with a commercial or military enterprise..
Finally, with profound respect for the goal of best radiation protection for all, we recommend that the Commission reconsider its Draft 2005 Recommendations and revise them to incorporate the suggestions to improve health and safety for both people and all other forms of life that we, and others of our colleagues, have offered to you. It is a monumental undertaking, in which we wish the ICRP success in achieving maximum radiological protection for all.
Judith H. Johnsrud, Ph.D.
Chair, Subcommittee on Nuclear Waste, National Waste Committee
Sierra Club, USA