Radiation protection, sometimes referred to as radiological protection, is a general term applied to the protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation. Radiation protection can be divided into occupational radiation protection , which is the protection of workers in situations where their exposure is directly related to or required by their work; medical radiation protection, which is the protection of patients exposed to radiation as part of their diagnosis or treatment; and public radiation protection, which is the protection of individual members of the public and of the population in general.
In all situations involving exposure to radiation, an appropriate level of radiation protection needs to be applied using a graded approach i.e. the level of control applied must be commensurate with the associated risk or risks. In the IAEA Safety Standards, exposure to radiation is defined in terms of:
A planned exposure situation arises from the planned operation of a source or from a planned activity that results in an exposure from a source. The primary means of controlling exposure in planned exposure situations is by good design of installations, equipment and operating procedures. Those exposed can include workers, patients and the public. In the case of workers and the public, dose limits are set and must be complied with in order to ensure there is an adequate level of radiation protection. This differs from medical radiation protection, where the prime consideration in determining the dose that needs to be delivered is the need to ensure that diagnosis and treatment are effective.
An emergency exposure situation arises as a result of an accident, a malicious act, or any other unexpected event, and requires prompt action in order to avoid or reduce adverse consequences. Exposures can be to the public and to workers, such as those who may be exposed while taking actions to respond to the emergency.
An existing exposure situation is a situation of exposure which already exists when a decision on the need for control needs to be taken. Examples of an existing exposure situation are exposure to natural background radiation and exposure to residual radioactive material from a nuclear or radiological emergency after the emergency exposure situation has been declared ended. When considering the need for control, factors to be taken into account include the range of doses received and the size of the population exposed. Social and economic factors also need to be taken into account and, in some cases, the exposure may not be amenable to control.
Regulatory control restricts the release of radionuclides to and their accumulation in the environment. There is an increasing awareness of the vulnerability of the environment and society places greater emphasis than in the past on environmental protection. It is therefore important to be able to explicitly demonstrate that flora and fauna are appropriately protected against radiation risks arising from discharges of radionuclides into the environment. Whereas radiation protection of humans aims to avoid deterministic and to limit stochastic effects for individuals, radiation protection of the environment is focused on the conservation of species, the maintenance of biodiversity and the protection of habitats and ecosystems. The methods and criteria for these radiological assessments are being developed and will continue to evolve.
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