Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives

Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives 44
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Radiation and Risk: Expert PerspectivesRadiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives SP001-1 Published by Health Physics Society 1313 Dolley Madison Blvd. Suite 402 McLean, VA 22101 Disclaimer Statements and opinions expressed in publications of the Health Physics Society or in presentations given during its regular meetings are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Health Physics Society, the editors, or the organizations with which the authors are affiliated. The editor(s), publisher, and Society disclaim any responsibility or liability for such material and do not guarantee, warrant, or endorse any product or service mentioned. Official positions of the Society are established only by its Board of Directors. Copyright © 2017 by the Health Physics Society All rights reserved. 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Printed in the United States of America SP001-1, revised 2017 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives Table of Contents Foreword……………………………………………………………………………………………………………... 2 A Primer on Ionizing Radiation……………………………………………………………………………... 6 Growing Importance of Nuclear Technology in Medicine……………………………………….. 16 Distinguishing Risk: Use and Overuse of Radiation in Medicine………………………………. 22 Nuclear Energy: The Environmental Context…………………………………………………………. 27 Nuclear Power in the United States: Safety, Emergency Response Planning, and Continuous Learning…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 33 Radiation Risk: Used Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste Disposal………………………... 42 Radiation Risk: Communicating to the Public………………………………………………………… 45 After Fukushima: Implications for Public Policy and Communications……………………. 51 Appendix 1: Radiation Units and Measurements……………………………………………………. 57 Appendix 2: Half-Life of Some Radionuclides…………………………………………………………. 58 Bernard L. Cohen (1924–2012)…………………………………………………………………………….. 59 1 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 Foreword 1 By Dr. Joxel Garcia, MD, MBA My life as a public health leader has provided me with the opportunity to work on many important and relevant public health issues locally, nationally, and internationally. Among those issues, there is no more fascinating or controversial area of work that I have encountered than the topic of radiation and nuclear energy. It seems that everyone I have met has an opinion about the topic. From the science experts to politicians, from the media to the academicians, even from my childhood friends in the dairy farm town of Hatillo, Puerto Rico, where I was raised, to my educated and prestigious friends in New York City, Washington, DC, and Geneva—every one of them has a “personal expert opinion” about radiation and nuclear energy. People recall the high-profile accidents like Chernobyl in the Ukraine in April 1986 and the more recent Fukushima power plant disaster that followed the earthquake and tsunami affecting Japan in March 2011. Few, though, could describe or place an objective value on the actual benefit to patients and the environment from the use of clean nuclear power instead of fossil fuel-based electricity and from medical treatment of cancer patients with radiation. This selection of papers will provide valuable perspectives on the benefits and risks of nuclear technology from esteemed experts and leaders in the field. My interest in radiation started as a medical student; I was fascinated by Madame Marie Curie’s life and her groundbreaking work on radiation, especially her interest in its clinical benefits. As a resident in training and then as a practicing physician, I saw firsthand the clinical benefits of controlled radiation therapy on patients with cervical cancer and other malignancies, as well as the use of radiological tests to screen patients and save lives. As time passed, I had the privilege to serve as the Commissioner of Public Health in Connecticut. That job included working with government and academic peers, public health and safety officers in the state and region, as well as nuclear industry leaders in the support and implementation, if necessary, of the state of Connecticut’s Radiological Emergency Plan, and responding to all transportation, industrial, and research-facility emergencies and incidents involving ionizing radiation. The public health personnel worked closely with the Office of Emergency Management as well as the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to keep our safety plan up to date and the state well prepared in case of a radiation or nuclear accident. During that time, I was able to appreciate the work done by our federal regulatory agencies related to nuclear energy, power plants, and medical devices that utilize radiation. 1 th Dr. Joxel Garcia was the 13 U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health and also served as the U.S. Representative to the World Health Organization Executive Board. Currently, Dr. Garcia serves as principal at the International Healthcare Solutions Group and partner at Faunus Global. 2 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 I also learned firsthand about the synergistic and collaborative work between industry and government to better protect the populations served, as well as to help produce an efficient and effective alternative to fossil-based fuel. The collaboration and synergy between industry and government has driven nuclear energy innovation and workforce development and strengthened U.S. efforts to address the safety, waste management, and security of nuclear energy. After I served my state, I went to work for the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization. There I was able to live with, face, and better understand the multiple conflicting, as well as very passionate, views on the topic by people from all segments of society and from various countries in the Pan American region as well as in Asia, Africa, and Europe. th One of my most humbling, and career-fulfilling, experiences was to serve as the 13 U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH); as the ASH I was the highest public health officer in the United States, and as such I needed to understand how to better protect our nation. One of the lessons I learned was to appreciate the synergistic and collaborative work that the private sector, including industry, research institutions, and academia, provide to our nation in conjunction with federal, state, and local governments. It is that collaborative work that makes our nation better and is an example of how the work on nuclear energy and radiation safety should continue to improve continuously. This document is an example of the collaborative work such improvements require. My esteemed colleagues will present the reader with objective and science-based information as they help us navigate through some of the most important and timely issues regarding radiation and nuclear energy. The authors are the leading scientists in their respective fields and encompass multiple fields and specialties, including engineering, medicine, health physics, environmental health, and public safety. Their research and academic accolades are matched only by their reputation and experience, which includes firsthand experience with the three most well-known and significant nuclear accidents in history—Fukushima and Chernobyl (the only two classified as a level 7 event on the International Nuclear Event Scale) and the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania resulting from a partial reactor meltdown. Mr. Howard Dickson, former president of the Health Physics Society, describes how ubiquitous background radiation is emitted from both natural and human-made radioactive sources and how we are continuously irradiated by sources outside and inside our bodies. Dr. Richard Vetter, professor of radiobiology and radiation protection at Mayo Clinic, discusses how ionizing radiation serves important purposes in clinical medicine as a diagnostic tool and as therapy. 3 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 Dr. Louis Wagner, the chief physicist at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, explains the important distinction between risk of use and overuse of nonenergy nuclear technology, as well as its distinction in the medical and nonmedical industries. Dr. Kathryn Higley, from Oregon State University’s Department of Nuclear Engineering and a former reactor supervisor, and Ward Whicker, professor emeritus at Colorado State University, make an impressive presentation on the concept that nuclear energy is the only currently available technology that can effectively replace fossil fuel- generated electrical energy. Furthermore, they present the benefits for the environment that could be realized by changing to a mostly nuclear-powered economy. Dr. Higley presents the central importance of safety to nuclear power design in the United States. The late Dr. Bernard Cohen, formerly professor emeritus of physics at the University of Pittsburgh, describes the risk ratios and communication aspects of risk assessments. Dr. Robert Peter Gale of the Imperial College in London and the University of California Los Angeles (as well as a medical consultant involved in the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents) and colleague Dr. F. Owen Hoffman convey the importance of acknowledging that the uncertainty in our present risk estimates is based on our current knowledge and that this uncertainty may change as our knowledge improves. They argue that this nuanced approach will better inform the public and allow for more intelligent decision making, help build trust between scientists and the public and, more importantly, create more effective communication. Last, but not least, Dr. Robert Emery, an appointed member of the Texas Radiation Advisory Board and vice president for safety, health, environment, and risk management at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, eloquently describes how the past half century has shown the great value of nuclear energy and the importance of regulatory protocols and effective communication with the public. Furthermore, he convincingly shows that efforts to evaluate and refine current regulations must be steeped in the lessons learned and scientific evidence drawn from past occurrences so that we can continue pursuing the safe and efficient use of radiation. I am confident you will enjoy the reading these timely articles as you are presented with facts and information needed to understand some of the issues and concerns about nuclear energy and radiation, all in a concise and easy-to-read document. I will leave you now with words from a two-time Nobel Prize winner (physics and chemistry) and the pioneer in this area, Madame Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be 4 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” It has been an honor to provide this foreword. Very respectfully, Joxel Garcia, MD, MBA th 13 U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Former U.S. Representative to the WHO Executive Board 5 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 A Primer on Ionizing Radiation 1 By Howard Dickson Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space and may be able to penetrate various materials in its path. Light, radio, and microwaves are types of radiation that are called nonionizing. The kind of radiation discussed in this document is called ionizing radiation because it can produce charged particles (ions) in matter. Ionizing radiation is produced by unstable atoms or high-voltage devices (such as x-ray machines). Atoms with unstable nuclei are said to be radioactive. In order to reach stability, these atoms give off, or emit, the excess energy or mass. These emissions are called radiation. In short, radioactive atoms give off—or emit—radiation. The kinds of radiation are electromagnetic (such as x rays and gamma radiation) and particulate (alpha and beta particles). Radiation Safety After a century of developing man-made, radiation-producing devices—many of which help support human life—there was a heightened awareness that risks associated with related materials and radiation-based activities had to be evaluated and managed to ensure the safety of the general public. Thus, the multidisciplinary field of health physics was born to fulfill the need to better evaluate and manage radiation safety, and the Health Physics Society was formed shortly after to support all aspects of the profession. The th middle of the 20 century marked the time that the U.S. government began responding to the prevalence of man-made radiation with regulatory bodies focused on ensuring public and environmental safety. Three fundamental radiation protection principles apply to radiation sources and to exposed individuals, in all cases where the exposure is controllable. In general, exposure to natural sources of radiation is controllable only to the limited extent that individuals can choose the location in which they live. 1. The principle of justification: Any decision that alters the radiation exposure situation should do more good than harm. This means that by introducing a new radiation source or by reducing existing exposure, one should achieve an individual or societal benefit that is higher than the detriment it causes. 2. The principle of optimization: The likelihood of incurring exposures, the number of people exposed, and the magnitude of their individual doses should all be kept as low as reasonably achievable, taking into account economic and societal 1 Howard Dickson is president of Dickson Consulting, LLC, and Web Operations editor in chief for the Health Physics Society. (Correspondence contact: hwdickson1verizon.net) 6 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 factors. This means that the level of protection should be the best under the prevailing circumstances, maximizing the margin of benefit over harm. The third radiation protection principle is related to individuals and applies only in planned exposure situations. 3. The principle of application of dose limits: The total dose to any individual from all planned exposure situations, other than medical exposure of patients, should not exceed the appropriate limits specified by a regulatory body. Dose limits are determined by a national regulatory authority, such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on the basis of international recommendations and apply to workers and to members of the public in planned exposure situations. Dose limits do not apply to medical exposure of patients or to public exposures in emergency situations. History of Radiation Protection Health physics is concerned with protecting people from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation while allowing its beneficial use in medicine, science, and industry. Since the discovery of radiation and radioactivity over 100 years ago, radiation protection standards and the philosophy governing those standards have evolved in somewhat discrete intervals. The changes have been driven by two factors—new information on the effects of radiation on biological systems and changing attitudes toward acceptable risk. The earliest limits were based on preventing the onset of obvious effects such as skin ulcerations that appeared after intense exposure to radiation fields. Later limits were based on preventing delayed effects, such as cancer, that had been observed in populations of people receiving high doses, particularly from medical exposures and from the atomic bomb exposures in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. During the evolution of standards, the general approach has been to rely on risk estimates that have little chance of underestimating the consequences of radiation exposure. It is important to realize that most of the effects observed in human populations have occurred at high doses and high dose rates. The information gathered from those populations must be scaled down to low doses and low dose rates to estimate the risks that occur in occupational settings. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s history of radiation protection: By 1915, the British Roentgen Society adopted a resolution to protect people from overexposure to X-rays. This was probably the first organized effort at Radiation Protection. By 1922, American organizations had adopted the British protection rules. Awareness and education grew, and throughout the 1920s and 30s, more guidelines were developed and various organizations were 7 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 formed to address radiation protection in the United States and overseas. Radiation protection was primarily a non-governmental function until the late 1940s. After World War II, the development of the atomic bomb, and nuclear reactors caused the federal government to establish policies dealing with human exposure to radiation. In 1959, the Federal Radiation Council was established. The Council was responsible for three things: 1. advising the President of the United States on radiological issues that affected public health 2. providing guidance to all federal agencies in setting radiation protection standards 2 3. working with the States on radiation issues. Following World War II, nuclear regulation was the responsibility of the Atomic Energy Commission, which Congress established in the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 (amended in 1954). The act also made the development of commercial nuclear power possible for the first time in history. The U.S. Congress chartered the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) in 1964 as follows: To: 1. collect, analyze, develop and disseminate in the public interest information and recommendations about (a) protection against radiation . . . and (b) radiation measurements, quantities and units . . . ; 2. provide a means by which organizations concerned with the scientific and related aspects of radiation protection . . . may cooperate . . . ; 3. develop basic concepts about radiation . . . measurements . . . and about radiation protection; 4. cooperate with the International Commission on Radiological Protection, the Federal Radiation Council, the International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements, and other national and international organizations, governmental and private, 2 http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/understand/history.html 8 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 concerned with radiation . . . measurements and with radiation 3 protection. The Energy Reorganization Act of 1974 created the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Today, the NRC’s regulatory activities are focused on reactor safety oversight and reactor license renewal of existing plants, materials safety oversight and materials licensing for a variety of purposes, and waste management of both high-level waste and low-level waste. The NRC also relinquishes to the states portions of its regulatory authority to license and regulate byproduct materials (radioisotopes), source materials (uranium and thorium), and certain quantities of special nuclear materials. Thirty-seven states have entered into agreements with NRC, and others are being evaluated. In addition, the NRC evaluates new applications for nuclear plants. In 1970 Congress created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and radiation protection became a part of EPA’s responsibility. Today, EPA’s Radiation Protection Division is responsible for protecting the public’s health and the environment from undue exposure to radiation. This is accomplished by setting safety standards and guidelines. Current radiation dose limits protect workers and the public. Our radiation protection standards embody the extensive knowledge on radiation effects gained through radiobiological and epidemiological research of the last century. Collectively, more is known and understood about the biological effects of radiation than any other toxin or carcinogen. This knowledge applies to animals and the human species of various ages, organs and tissues of differing radiosensitivities, and a wide range of biological endpoints, including cell death, mutations, chromosome aberrations, and carcinogenic transformation. While questions remain on the precise shape of dose-response functions for specific biological effects over a broad spectrum of doses and dose rates for radiations of varying qualities, our understanding is sufficient to establish strong scientific bases for current radiation protection standards. No single hypothesis explains all combinations or mitigating circumstances in radiation toxicology. Further research will enable a greater understanding of natural factors that influence adaptive response and cellular repair of radiation damage. Natural Background Radiation Background radiation (which scientists call “ubiquitous” because it is everywhere) is emitted from both natural and human-made radioactive sources. Humans are continuously irradiated by sources outside and inside our bodies. Some naturally occurring radiation comes from the atmosphere as a result of radiation from outer space, some comes from the earth, and some is even in our bodies from radionuclides in the food and water we 3 http://www.ncrponline.org/AboutNCRP/About_NCRP.html 9 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 ingest and the air we breathe. Additionally, human-made radiation enters our environment from consumer products and activities such as medical procedures that use radionuclides or x rays and from nuclear power plants used to generate electricity. Whatever its origin, radiation is everywhere in our environment. Figure 1 depicts the typical distribution of exposure from all sources of ionizing radiation. Natural background radiation is the largest source of radiation exposure to humans (about 50 percent). However, medical sources of radiation exposure are almost as large (about 48 percent). The remaining 2 percent comes from consumer products, occupational exposure, and industrial exposure. A small fraction of this 2 percent comes from the operation of nuclear power plants. Figure 1. Source distribution for all radiation dose – contribution of various sources of exposure to the total dose per individual in the U.S. population for 2006. Fig. 1.1 from NCRP 160. Reprinted with permission of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, http://NCRPpublications.org (NCRP 2009). Radiation from Space. Radiation from outer space is called cosmic radiation. Radiation from beyond the solar system has enough energy to generate cosmogenic radionuclides, unstable forms of any nuclide, as it passes through the earth’s atmosphere. Some of this radiation reaches the earth’s surface, with most entering near the poles, where the earth’s 10 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 magnetic field is the weakest, and at high altitudes, where the earth’s atmosphere is the thinnest. These radionuclides created by cosmic radiation consist primarily of tritium, carbon-14, and beryllium-7. Radionuclides Originating on Earth. Radiation that originates on earth is called terrestrial radiation. Some elements, such as uranium, that have been present since the earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago decay and produce radioactive isotopes, or radionuclides. They are found around the globe in sedimentary and igneous rock. Radionuclides migrate from rocks into soil, water, and even the air. Human activities such as uranium mining have also redistributed some of these radionuclides. These radionuclides include the series produced when uranium and thorium decay, as well as potassium-40 and rubidium-87.A past human activity that contributed to terrestrial radiation was atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. Today, weapons testing is not a significant contributor to airborne background radiation; however, some contamination remaining from previous weapons testing is still detectable at very low levels in surface soil, including cesium-137 and strontium-90. Reactor accidents such as those at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania (1979), at Chernobyl in Russia (1986), and in Japan (2011) have contributed negligibly to background radiation in the United States. Radionuclides in the Body. Terrestrial and cosmogenic radionuclides enter the body through the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. As with all chemicals, radionuclides are taken in or eliminated by the body during normal metabolism. Some radionuclides are not readily absorbed in the body and are quickly eliminated. Some decay away so quickly they may not have time to accumulate in specific body tissues, but may be replaced through ingestion or inhalation. Others decay more slowly and may concentrate in specific body tissues (such as iodine-131 in the thyroid). The most significant radionuclides that enter the body are from the earth. Primary among them is radon gas (and its decay products) that we constantly inhale. Radon levels depend on the uranium and thorium content of the soil, which varies widely across the United States. The highest levels are found in the Appalachians, the upper Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain states. Uranium and thorium (and their decay products), as well as potassium-40, are the main radionuclides in our bodies. These terrestrial radionuclides are in the soil and fertilizers that are applied to the soil, subsequently entering our food and water supply. Most drinking-water sources have very low levels of terrestrial radionuclides, including radium-226, radium-228, and uranium. These radionuclides are found at higher levels in some areas of the United States than others. 11 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 Human-Made Sources of Radiation Medical Sources (48 percent). By far, the major source of human-made radiation is from medical applications. The increase in the medical use of radiation accounts for the largest part of the overall increase in radiation exposure over the decade. However, like natural background radiation, this dose is not evenly distributed across the population. People with health issues receive the majority of the dose, especially older individuals, who receive more diagnostic and therapeutic radiation. Much of the increase in radiation from medical applications is due to advances in technology, especially the increased use of computed tomography (CT). CT scans are the major medical source of radiation and account for half of all medical exposure. Nuclear Energy Sources (0.1 percent). A relatively minor source of man-made radiation is the nuclear energy industry, which generally uses uranium as fuel to produce about 20 percent of America’s electricity. Interestingly, coal-fired plants emit more radioactive particles than nuclear power plants because of natural radioactivity in the coal that is burned, resulting in radioactive plant effluents. Consumer Products (2 percent). Other sources of radiation include consumer products and uses of natural radioactivity, such as in some smoke detectors, energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs, timepieces, ceramics, fertilizers, lantern mantles, and granite countertops. Dose from Exposure to Radiation A person receives a dose from the exposure to radiation sources whether outside the body (for example, external radiation from medical x rays) or inside the body (for example, internal radiation from radioactive potassium absorbed by the cells when a person eats food). When scientists describe dose, they use the units of sievert (Sv), one- thousandth of a sievert (millisievert, or mSv), or one-millionth of a sievert (microsievert, or µSv). Here in the United States, dose is often referred to in units of rems, which are one- hundredth the dose of a sievert. (Measurement comparisons and conversions can be found in Appendix 1.) Each year, U.S. residents receive an average dose from natural background radiation of about 3.1 mSv (310 mrem). This figure does not include man-made doses, such as from medical procedures, which adds about another 3.1 mSv for a total of about 6.2 mSv (620 mrem) per year. The NRC is the primary agency for regulating radioactive materials and ensuring public safety. The NRC set a radiation dose limit of 1 mSv (100 mrem) in a year and 0.02 mSv (2 mrem) in an hour for a member of the public from regulated radiation sources; however, the agency excludes natural and medical uses of ionizing radiation. If a member of the public received the entire legal dose limit from regulated man-made sources (a very 12 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 rare occurrence), it would still be much less than he or she received from all background sources. Dose from Space Radiation. In the United States, people receive an average dose from space radiation of about 0.04 µSv (0.004 mrem) in an hour, or about 0.33 mSv (33 mrem) each year. Space radiation dose makes up about 5 percent of the average total dose from all background radiation. Traveling by airplane can expose people to slightly more space radiation because at high altitudes, there is less atmosphere to shield the incoming radiation. For example, one study found that on a flight from New York to Chicago, travelers would receive an additional dose of about 0.01 mSv (1 mrem). Dose from Terrestrial Radiation. People living in the United States receive an average dose from terrestrial radiation of about 0.21 mSv (21 mrem) per year. Fallout from past nuclear weapons testing is not a significant contributor to current radiation dose. The average terrestrial radiation dose (not including the dose from radionuclides in the body, discussed below) is about 3 percent of the average total dose from all background radiation. Dose from Radionuclides in the Body. Inhaled radionuclides include cosmogenic radionuclides and terrestrial radionuclides that become airborne. Of all sources of background radiation, radon (the radioactive gas emitted by uranium and thorium in soil and rocks) results in the greatest dose to humans. Radon is ever present and occurs at various levels depending on several factors. For example, most would be surprised that due to heavy traces of uranium in the granite and marble used in both the U.S. Capitol and New York City’s Grand Central Station, the dose from these buildings is roughly 1.2 mSv (120 mrem) per year (greater than the regulatory limit required of nuclear facilities for 4 exposure to the public). Indoor radon concentrations, however, are also the most variable dose components, since they depend on the soil the house is built on, how it is built, where in the house radon is measured, and more. Even some granite countertops can contribute to the radon levels in a house, but this contribution is typically very small compared to the radon from the soil under the house. The average dose from all inhaled radionuclides is about 2.3 mSv (230 mrem) per year, which is about 37 percent of the average total dose from all background radiation. People ingest radionuclides when they eat food grown in soil that contains uranium, thorium, potassium, and rubidium; drink milk from animals fed crops that grow in the soil; 4 http://inst.nuc.berkeley.edu/NE104/Lectures/Sources_NE104_Spring12.pdf 13 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 and drink water containing dissolved radionuclides. The average dose from all ingested radionuclides is about 0.3 mSv (30 mrem) per year, which is about 5 percent of the average total dose from all background radiation. Dose from Man-Made Products That Emit Radiation. As mentioned, by far the major radiation dose from man-made products is the result of medical applications. Report NCRP 160 by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements found that medical doses have increased to the point that by 2006, the average individual received 3.1 mSv (310 mrem) per year, almost half of all exposure. This is more than a seven-fold increase in less than three decades, resulting in an increased concern by the medical community and 5 efforts to make sure that these exposures to radiation are medically justified. The use of CT scans is the major medical source of radiation and accounts for half of the medical exposure. Consumer products, plus occupational and industrial exposure, which includes the exposure from the operation of nuclear power plants, only contribute about 0.1 mSv (10 mrem) per year (2 percent of the exposure). Health Effects of Exposure to Radiation Exposure to high levels of radiation is known to cause cancer and, at very high levels, radiation poisoning and even death. But the effects on human health from very low doses of radiation—such as the doses from background radiation—are extremely hard to determine because there are so many other factors that can mask or distort the effects of radiation. For example, if we compare people exposed to high radon levels to cigarette smokers, the latter group is much more likely to develop lung cancer than nonsmokers. Lifestyle choices, geographic locations, and individual sensitivities are difficult to account for when trying to understand the health effects of background radiation. A United Nations committee in 2000 concluded that exposure to varying levels of background radiation does not significantly affect cancer incidence (UNSCEAR 2000). In 2006, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences suggested that while there may be some risk of cancer at the very low doses from background radiation, that risk is small (NRC 2006). According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “The 6 impact of low dose radiation on the overall cancer burden is difficult to quantify.” Still, while the overall risk for radiation-induced cancer is low, it is greater for some types of cancer than others. For lung cancer caused by breathing radon, the EPA estimates that there are as many as 21,000 deaths each year in the United States, which is about 13 percent of all lung-cancer deaths. (Some scientists consider that number as an upper bound 5 http://www.ncrponline.org/Publications/Press_Releases/160press.html 6 http://www.iarc.fr/en/research-groups/ENV/index.php 14 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 on the potential deaths from radon exposure.) Of the 21,000 lung cancer deaths from radon inhalation, only 2,900—or roughly 14 percent—are from nonsmokers. Smoking, of course, is the number one cause of lung cancer and secondhand smoke ranks third. The total lung- cancer deaths directly related to smoking (first or secondhand) exceed 190,000 people per 7 year. There is even some credible scientific evidence that there is a beneficial effect from exposure to low levels of radiation—an effect called hormesis. There is no evidence of increased risk of diseases from naturally occurring radiation other than that of cancer. Total environmental causes and contributors to cancer are difficult to accurately identify, given the varying degrees of exposure any one person may have compared to another based on the time and space in which they exist. Also, in most cases there are combinations of potential cancer triggers that a person is exposed to throughout his or her life in varying degrees and duration. Of course, some catalysts are more easily recognized than others. As the IARC states, “Some agents within this scope of environmental, lifestyle, occupational and radiation-related exposures have already been identified as major causes of cancer, particularly tobacco smoking and exposure to ultraviolet radiation.” References National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. Ionizing radiation exposure of the population of the United States. Bethesda, MD: National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements; NCRP Report 160; 2009. National Research Council. Health risks from exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2006. United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Sources and effects of ionizing radiation. UNSCEAR 2000 Report to the General Assembly with scientific annexes. New York: United Nations; 2000. 7 http://www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html 15 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 Growing Importance of Nuclear Technology in Medicine 1 By Richard Vetter, PhD, CHP Ionizing radiation serves three important purposes in medicine. First, it makes it possible for physicians to diagnose many conditions that would be difficult or impossible to diagnose in any other way. The most well-known use of radiation in medicine is the creation of images of the inside of the human body. Images can be formed in two general ways—by directing x rays through the patient’s body (diagnostic radiology) or by administering radioactive pharmaceuticals to the patient (nuclear medicine imaging). Second, ionizing radiation is also used to treat cancer by directing intense beams of x rays, gamma rays, or protons directly at the area of the body where the tumor is located. These intense beams are usually produced by large electronic machines called accelerators or cyclotrons, but in some cases a radioactive source is implanted in the tumor either for a short time or permanently. Finally, small amounts of radioactive materials are used in the laboratory to analyze blood and tissue samples or to conduct research. At some time during our lives, most of us will have a diagnostic radiology or nuclear medicine imaging examination to help the physician evaluate our body. For example, radiology can reveal a broken bone, and nuclear imaging (such as a heart scan) can be crucial in diagnosing a disease. Radiation doses from these exams usually are quite low, but in some cases patients receive higher-than-average doses (Table 1). During a diagnostic radiology examination, x rays are generated by a machine and directed at the area of the body of interest. Some of the x rays are absorbed in the patient, while others pass through the patient and are captured by an imaging device on the other side of the patient. The imaging device sends information about the captured x rays to a computer that creates an image (radiograph) of the internal structures of the body. The areas of the body most frequently examined by a diagnostic radiologist are arms and legs, chest, and teeth. Radiation doses from these exams are low, usually only a fraction of the dose we receive from background radiation. Use of one special type of x-ray exam, computed tomography (CT), has increased considerably over the past three decades. Because the radiation dose from a CT exam is higher than a radiograph, it is not used if a radiograph will provide the information needed to make the diagnosis. CT exams have become extremely useful in diagnosing and staging cancer and in evaluating patients with coronary artery disease, but they also serve an important role in diagnosing other diseases, such as acute appendicitis. Therefore, the 1 Richard Vetter, professor emeritus of biophysics from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is the agency and congressional liaison for the Health Physics Society. 16 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 benefit from CT exams is large compared to the low risk that may result from the radiation exposure. The procedure that delivers the highest radiation doses in diagnostic radiology is called interventional radiology. This procedure uses x rays to image a specific part of the body, such as the heart, during a procedure that requires the physician to manipulate a probe or other device within the organ of interest. In complicated cases, the organ may receive several minutes of exposure to x rays, compared to a conventional diagnostic radiology exam that delivers x rays in a fraction of a second. Typically, the longest exposure times occur in rare cases when patients require a complicated procedure to correct an internal cardiac-pacing signal. In nuclear imaging exams, a patient receives a pharmaceutical that has been tagged with a radionuclide (radioactive atom). The pharmaceutical concentrates the radionuclide in particular organs of the body. When the radionuclide undergoes radioactive decay, it emits ionizing radiation, typically x rays or gamma rays, some of which pass through the body and are captured by a large detector placed next to the patient. The detector sends electronic signals to a computer that creates an image of the internal structures of the body. The image shows any abnormality, such as a tumor. The most common exam performed in cancer patients is a bone scan that will show the location of any tumors that have spread to the bone. Another common nuclear imaging exam performed is a heart scan that will detect areas of the heart where blood circulation is abnormal, such as an area of muscle damaged by a heart attack or an area where blood flow is restricted by a clot or plaque in a coronary artery. The radiation doses from most nuclear medicine exams are comparable to the doses from other diagnostic x-ray imaging procedures (Table 1). Finally, higher doses of ionizing radiation are used to treat cancer. This technique focuses beams of radiation on the area of the body that contains the cancer cells. This area (a tumor or tissue that contains cancer cells) is exposed to radiation from several directions to minimize the radiation dose to normal tissue and maximize the radiation dose to cancer cells. In addition to receiving a higher radiation dose, cancer cells are more susceptible to radiation and cannot repair the radiation damage as well as normal cells can. Another form of radiation therapy, in which a radiation source is implanted in the tumor, is called brachytherapy. Even though the medical benefit provided by the information obtained from imaging exams far outweighs any risk to the patient, hospitals take precautions to avoid unnecessary exams and to keep the radiation doses as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). Under the ALARA principle, the decision to order an imaging exam is based on medical judgment made in the best interests of the patient. The amount of radiation used is 17 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017 the minimum necessary to make an accurate diagnosis. High quality of the exam is assured by maintaining equipment in the best possible condition and properly adjusting and operating the radiation-generating and imaging equipment. Table 1. Adult Effective Doses2 for Various Radiation Procedures (Mettler 2008) Radiation Average Procedure Effective Dose (mSv) Diagnostic Radiology Exam Lumbar spine 1.5 Mammography 0.4 Hip 0.7 Abdomen 0.7 Extremities 0.001–0.005 CT Procedures Head 2.0 Chest 7.0 Abdomen 8.0 Pelvis 6.0 Coronary angiography 16.00 Interventional Radiology Procedures Coronary angiography (diagnostic) 7.0 Coronary angioplasty 15.0 Pelvic vein embolization 60.0 Nuclear Medicine Imaging Exams Brain 7.0 Bone 6.0 99m Cardiac stress test ( Tc-sestamibi) 13.0 201 Cardiac stress test ( Tl-thallium chloride) 40.0 18 Tumor ( F-FDG) 14.0 Health Effects and Risk from Both Energy and Nonenergy Production Shortly after the discovery of x rays in 1896, scientists observed that people exposed to large amounts of radiation experienced skin damage, and those exposed to many doses of radiation developed tumors several years later. Since then, radiation has been studied extensively and biological effects are well known. Since radiation plays an important part of our lives in the production of energy, diagnosis of medical conditions, and many other applications, it is important that we learn certain basic facts about how radiation affects our bodies. 2 Effective dose is a weighted average of the whole-body radiation exposure. 18 SP001-1 Radiation and Risk: Expert Perspectives, revised 2017

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