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 Table of Contents 
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 42  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 187-189  

Summary from the SFRP-IRPA workshops “on the reasonableness in the practical implementation of the ALARA principle”

Editor, Radiation Protection and Environment; Ex. Radiation Safety Systems Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission10-Jan-2020
Date of Acceptance11-Jan-2020
Date of Web Publication27-Jan-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. D D Rao
Editor, Radiation Protection and Environment; Ex. Radiation Safety Systems Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/rpe.RPE_3_20

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How to cite this article:
Rao D D. Summary from the SFRP-IRPA workshops “on the reasonableness in the practical implementation of the ALARA principle”. Radiat Prot Environ 2019;42:187-9

How to cite this URL:
Rao D D. Summary from the SFRP-IRPA workshops “on the reasonableness in the practical implementation of the ALARA principle”. Radiat Prot Environ [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Nov 30];42:187-9. Available from: https://www.rpe.org.in/text.asp?2019/42/4/187/276922

The fundamental principles of the System of Radiation Protection of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) are justification, optimization, and application of dose limits. The implementation of the optimization principle is generally achieved, all over the world, through the as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) principle. The practical implementation of the principle of optimization of radiological protection was the subject of two workshops organized in Paris (France) in February 2017 and October 2018 at the initiative of the Société française de radioprotection within the framework of the International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA). The search for reasonableness was examined in the following three sectors: nuclear industry, medical practices, and existing exposure situations. In all the sectors, optimization remains a challenge, and experience showed that this is implemented through a deliberative process to achieve a reasonable compromise with all informed parties. The following paragraphs will outline the conclusions drawn from the case studies and deliberations at the workshops.[1]

  In Nuclear Sector Top

The collective doses of workers have been significantly reduced since the implementation of the ICRP 60, but vigilance is still necessary to cope with the disparities in the distribution of individual doses as well as with a more difficult economic situation. Vis-à-vis the public, there is a tendency to minimization of the impact (discharges) instead of the optimization of radiological protection, in a context of increasing societal and environmental considerations. The working group (WG) dealing with the nuclear sector advocated a holistic approach to optimizing hazards as a whole, not just the dose, in a process of continuous improvement. Such an approach should find a balance between the different hazards, by relying on multiexpertise teams (experts on conventional, environmental, and radiological risks). The focus on the radiological risk may indeed lead, in some cases, to inequities in protection by giving too much weight to the radiation risk in comparison to other hazards. For the protection of workers, the real implementation of good practices agreed at the international level is considered as a proof of the application of ALARA. A cost–benefit analysis and the use of multicriteria tools can help present a reasoned argument, especially at low doses, for which further reduction in exposure is not ALARA. The application of ALARA also includes the need to establish teams of experts, procedures, and meetings as well as the development of a radiation protection (RP) culture at all levels. All types of personnel should be involved: hierarchy, inside- and outside-workers, but also authorities. Feedback experience from both the operator and the subcontractors is useful. Sharing responsibilities between the operator and the subcontractors is not obvious, and a clear partnership should be established. The ALARA should also be implemented using a graded approach commensurate with the level of the risk. Public perception of radiation risk associated with nuclear power is more critical since the Fukushima accident. For the operators, proving that the public exposure induces a very low risk can be very expensive. Such a consideration is important when setting dose criteria for public exposure. These criteria also can depend on the context (country and exposure situation). Authorities require the application of the best available techniques at all stages. This has resulted in a systematic search of minimization of the risk regarding sources, discharges, and waste beyond the ALARA, while nuclear power plants are already designed and operated in order to produce extremely low releases, which can be considered as ALARA. In some cases, the good balance between public protection and workers' protection may require a trade-off (e.g., when the reactor containment needs to be vented to provide better working conditions inside).

  In Medical Sector Top

According to the corresponding WG, the key elements to achieve reasonableness are education, training, and development of RP culture. It is not always easy, however, to involve the patients. Working with patient associations may be useful. The concept of as low as diagnostically achievable in the use of the equipment (search for the optimized image) was encouraged until a proper balance between a cost–benefit analysis and the quality management system demonstrates that new and more optimized equipment is needed. Occupational exposures in medical sector are generally low except for some practices (e.g., interventional radiology and surgery or radiopharmacy). In some cases, the application of the dose limit to the lens of the eye may be a challenge. Multidisciplinary and equitable approaches were also recommended. A focus on medical ethics has also been emphasized for medical training. Several suggestions were also made to the IRPA in order to improve the dissemination of knowledge.

  In Existing Exposure Situations Top

The WG pointed out that the scope of the existing exposure situations is diverse and some are controversial situations (e.g., contaminated sites). Whatever the case, the WG emphasized the need to reach a kind of acceptance of the situation by the public and hence the importance of organizing the dialog. There is, in most of the cases, an underlying fear of radiation by the public. That fear is generally stronger toward anthropogenic sources (including radium used for its radioactive purpose) than toward natural ones (e.g., radon). Messages should be clear and straightforward. The situation may evolve and that should be explained to better anticipate the evolution. The role of authorities is crucial to establish or restore confidence. Sometimes, an empowerment of the stakeholders is needed, by providing them with sufficient information and skills to be able to take informed decisions. This is particularly needed when people are involved in their own protection (self-help protection), for example, against radon exposure or in postaccident situations. For the latter case, information and preparation in “peace time” can be helpful at the time of crisis. In case of pollution, there is no “acceptable” level of radiation exposure: from the point of view of members of the public, the radioactivity is unwelcomed and should be deleted. However, zero risk does not exist and the total cleanup of the site is often unfeasible. The quantitative approach is the preferred approach of experts, while most of the time, the public better understands qualitative or comparative arguments. Experience shows that it may be preferable to organize a deliberation, reaching an agreement on what is reasonable. Comparison with other risks may be helpful, but it can also be tricky. For instance, when the situation is controversial, such comparison may be seen as making trivial the radiological risk versus the other risks. Thresholds are often wrongly seen as a border between safe and dangerous. The value of 1 mSv/year is used as a reference level in many cases for public exposure, while it is the low end of the range recommended by the ICRP for the existing exposure situations (1–20 mSv/year). Such value is a reference level, but in practice, it is rather used as an action level. It is expressed in effective dose while this concept is not meant to reflect individual risk. In the existing exposure situations, what is at stake is to achieve or recover a good quality of life. The optimization principle may then be called as low as qualitatively achievable. It can be achieved using a flexible approach. Authorities should be clear about what the ground rules are: what they will do or will not do, what resources are available, and how they will be allocated. It was finally pointed out that in this approach, the question of who pays is crucial.

  Outcome Top

There is a wide acceptance that optimization of exposure is a process requiring judgment, and that there is no single formula leading to an outcome. There are some proposals suggesting that there should be minimum thresholds, below which there would be no requirement for consideration of optimization. This approach is not currently widely supported, with most experts believing that we should always be trying to be “reasonable,” and indeed be seen to be “reasonable.” However, there is a widespread concern over what seems like a trend to delivering “ever lower doses.” There is a need for a wider acceptance from all interested parties that there should be a focus on the higher doses, while ensuring a proportionate consideration of less significant exposures. For the lowest occupational and medical exposures, this should focus on developing and supporting an effective safety culture across all hazards. For public exposures, there is no substitute for careful and empathetic engagement with all relevant stakeholders, but which also recognizes the need for appropriate allocation of society's resources.

On the basis of practical case studies, in all sectors, the optimization remains a challenge, and experience shows that it is implemented through a deliberative process to achieve a reasonable compromise with all informed parties. In light of the reflections carried out within the three WGs, it seems possible to interpret the “R” of the acronym ALARA, i.e., the term “reasonable,” in a dedicated way according to the situation. In the nuclear sector, where reasonableness is notably a matter of good balance between the protection against several hazards, R may become H as holistically. In the medical sector, where the capability to carry out the good image for a proper diagnosis is still a challenge for the optimization of patient exposure, the R of ALARA may become D as diagnostically. In the existing exposure situations such as radon exposure, legacy sites, or postaccident situations, the R may become Q as qualitatively in order to illustrate the importance to maintain or recover a decent quality of life for all individuals in the prevailing circumstances. However, while such interpretations may be helpful in some specific situations, they cannot replace the concept of reasonableness which is the common driving factor in all situations.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Lecomte JF, Bannon A, Billarand Y, Bryant P, Cantone MC, Coates R, et al. Summary of SFRP-IRPA workshops on the reasonableness in the practical implementation of the ALARA principle. Radioprotection 2019;54:277-81.  Back to cited text no. 1

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