Societal issues in a context of radiation protection

Challenges for the Radiological Protection for the next 50 years Symposium BVS/ABR 50th anniversary Brussels, 8-10 April 2013

Dr Patrick Smeesters

Vice-chair BVS/ABR
MD, Senior expert in Radiation Protection, FANC (hon)
Lecturer (UCL, ULB) Member of Euratom Art 31 Group of Experts
Chairman of the Research Implications on Health Safety Standards (RIHSS) Art 31 WG
Member of Belgian delegation to UNSCEAR


Ionizing radiation is part of a series of current societal concerns, together with climate change, pesticides, GMO or chemical pollution. Common points of these concerns are, on the one hand, that many uncertainties remain regarding their health and environmental effects, which is quite logical since not enough time has passed to assess their long-term effects, and, on the other hand, that huge financial interests are at stake. In this context, we see a proliferation of experts’ quarrels, leading to a loss of credibility of the experts in general. The reasons for this are analysed in this article, the 100 mSv “case” serving as an illustration (this level of dose is frequently presented as a “level of concern”, if not as a “threshold”, for radiation effects on human health). Beside conflicts of interest, the fundamental issues challenging experts’ work are: limits and misuses of the evidence-based approach, lack (or refusal) of precautionary attitude in scientific research and scientific reductionism, all together causing an increasing gap with society. The main challenge for (radiological protection and others) experts in the next 50 years could well be to change their own perception, instead of trying to change public’s perception.