SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

Key Radiation Safety Areas For The Next Decade Identified At the International Conference On Radiation Safety

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By Lenka Dojcanova, IAEA Department of Nuclear Safety and Security

After two weeks of online discussions at the International Conference of Radiation Safety, more than 2000 participants including experts from 140 Member States and 13 International Organizations, agreed on key areas in radiation protection.

Participants agreed that addressing concrete areas such as applying the core radiation protection principles more consistently, a more integrated public communication, and having a strong safety culture, are essential to sustain and improve the protection of workers, patients, the public and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation.

This consensus is a result of the feedback and live discussions of regulators, operators, radiation safety experts, researchers, among others. During the conference, they shared their experience in applying the current system based on the IAEA International Basic Safety Standards (BSS) on Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources in their countries.

“Radiation safety system based on BSS is fundamental to many of the Agency’s activities and it is a core discipline that we promote strongly in all Member States IAEA Deputy Director General and head of the Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, Juan Carlos Lentijo. “This is not just a technical issue, but an issue that touches also on public acceptability, openness and transparency and effective communication. We should not underestimate the challenge, failure to succeed will impact negatively on all societies. We hope that these key areas will help everyone tackle some of the challenges ahead of us in the next decade.”

Ethics at the forefront of discussions

As discussed at the conference, experts in IAEA Member States might at times rely on their best judgements to regulate facilities and activities with ionizing radiation, despite having IAEA safety standards in place. “Regulators should not be afraid to use good judgement and place more reliance on ethics to guide decision-making,” said Rosario Velasco García, public health expert from Spain and the Conference President. “That is what society expects of us.”

Ethics becomes especially important when decisions have to be made outside the scope of legislation and codes of practice. One example is non-medical human imaging, a procedure which involves the intentional exposure of individuals to radiation for purposes other than medical diagnosis or treatment, such as drug smuggling, security screening at airports and age determination. Such procedures are sometimes taking place without any regulatory oversight, as concluded by conference participants.

Another key area of importance for the future of radiation safety highlighted at the conference was the correct and timely application of radiation safety principles by professionals. These include questions such as when and if to justify the procedures and applications with ionizing radiation, how to optimize them, if to exempt or clear for example radiation sources with a low level of risk from regulatory control. Challenge of applying basic radiation protection principles applies mainly to the exposure situations with radiation sources naturally present in the environment.

Through the conference sessions, participants highlighted the need for effective public communication. With the development of new communication channels, it is more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction and to differentiate between experts and those who merely have an opinion. The experts concluded that the public will decide what is ‘safe’, but radiation protection professionals have an ethical and moral responsibility to provide factual information to support informed decision-making by the public.

To boost the scientific talks, conference participants could also access the recorded presentations, visit the virtual exhibition hall and IAEA radiation monitoring laboratory.

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