The Future of Radiological Protection


Developing the System of Radiological Protection to Enhance Its Contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Author(s): A. Mayall, A. Stackhouse, C. Dowds, A. Wakefield, P. Orr
(Environment Agency, England, UK)



The system of radiological protection has evolved since the publication of the ICRP’s first set of recommendations in 1959. It has enabled the beneficial uses of radiation and radioactive substances while protecting humans from their harmful tissue reactions and carcinogenic (and other stochastic) effects. The system has arguably been world leading in the protection of humans from carcinogens. Since the publication of the most recent ICRP recommendations in 2007 the pace of change in global socio-economic challenges and environmental degradation has accelerated. We face climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies as well as global health crises such as Covid-19 and increases in non-communicable diseases such as cancer.

In addressing the global issues we face it is therefore more important than ever to take an integrated approach to balancing social, environmental and economic risks and impacts. In the context of radiological protection it is vital that our efforts to reduce or control radiation risks consider the wider consequences of those efforts if we are to avoid causing more harm than good. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ideal framework for facilitating a balanced approach to socio-economic development and environmental protection and enhancement. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with improving health and education, reducing inequality, and spurring economic growth – all while tackling climate change and preserving our environment.

The ICRP system of radiological protection is based on three fundamental principles: justification, optimisation and the limitation of radiation exposure. The principle of justification requires that any decision that changes the amount of radiation exposure should do more good than harm. Optimisation requires that radiation exposure should be kept as low as reasonably achievable, taking into account economic and societal factors. Optimisation is not the minimisation of radiation exposure rather the maximising of the net benefit relative to the radiation exposure.

This paper explores how the system of radiological protection contributes to the delivery of sustainable development and considers how the SDGs might be taken into account in its further development and application to ensure that the system is fit for the 21st century.

Keywords: sustainable; development; system; radiological; protection



Christopher Clement

Andy, thanks for a thoughtful presentation on many very important points. I really appreciate you introducing the idea of sustainability as a central theme, and the possibility of considering the the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the revision of the System of RP.

Your presentation of a 'broader perspective' is also interesting. I think most can agree that RP considerations are almost always one of many, and your idea to broaden this to RP as one part of contributing to global sustainability will help fuel further discussions.