Last update in December 2012
The purpose of the Envirhom program launched in 2001, was to improve risk assessments associated with chronic exposure to radionuclides to both the environment and human health. The program dealt with the radiation protection of populations in the broad sense (humans, fauna and flora) which are subject to chronic contamination with low doses of radionuclides in a multi-pollution context. This program was important for human health, the economy, industry and society in France, a country with a large nuclear sector. The issue of chronic low-dose exposure to radionuclides concerns current nuclear installations under normal operating conditions or in a post-accident situation, the management of former uranium mining sites following their exploitation and the dismantling of end-of-life installations. It is also relevant in view of new nuclear industry programs such as the EPR and high-level radioactive waste storage sites and concerns the international community, particularly in Europe. Furthermore, it is an issue which has grown in importance following the impact of the Fukushima accident. This program was therefore entirely in line with IRSN's main activities and justified by the need for a constant increase in research capacity and expertise in radiological and nuclear risks.
Context and aims
IRSN took an interest in the effects of low doses of ionising radiation very early on. Its research in this area was formalised in 2001 with the ENVIRHOM program. IRSN's interest has since grown and it now has a more specific area of research: 'The effects of low dose ionising radiation during chronic exposure situations'. This area of research concerns the human population groups which are exposed (public, workers) and animal and plant biodiversity. This was the framework in which the ENVIRHOM program has developed. The programme comprised two areas to cover environmental and health concerns: Envirhom-Éco, which looked at the consequences for the environment, and ENVIRHOM-Santé, which looked at the effects on humans.
The ENVIRHOM program's main aims were:
for human health, to identify, on the basis of experimental models, the biological effects of radionuclides on the main physiological functions (central nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, etc.) of human beings and the possible dysfunctions caused,
for the environment, to link disorders affecting individuals (behaviour, growth, reproduction) with effects on the populations or communities that form ecosystems.
The first phase (2001 to 2006) was dedicated to a feasibility study whose results showed that the research should continue. The aim of the second phase (since 2006) was to build on our knowledge to improve the assessment of the health effects by broadening the physiological systems observed and the radionuclides studied and the assessment of the environmental consequences of low-dose chronic exposure.
With regards to the European program for research on low doses, IRSN is actively involved in both areas: the environment and health.
IRSN, the leader of the Network of Excellence in Radioecology (STAR 2011-2015), has coordinated and contributed to the production of the first version of the strategic research agenda and to discussions within the Alliance (an emerging European platform dedicated to radioecology). One of the three challenges of this strategic research agenda over the next 15 years concerns research on 'mechanistic understanding of the processes inducing radiation effects at different levels of biological organisation, including the consequences on ecosystem integrity, to accurately predict effects under the realistic conditions in which organisms are actually exposed..' IRSN coordinates this area of research as well as the work of a STAR working package dedicated to this subject (WP5 – Ecologically relevant low dose effects).
IRSN is actively involved in the European network of excellence, DoReMi (January 2010 - December 2015), in which it is particularly responsible for WP2, a working group tasked with developing the European platform, MELODI, and for WP7, a working group dedicated to the non-cancerous side effects of exposure to low doses of radioactivity. In 2010 and 2011, IRSN organised two consensus conferences on radiation-induced vascular effects and radiation-induced opacity of the cystalline lens. These conferences led to the identification of the main lines of research to be pursued in the future and thereby enriched the strategic research agenda on the effects of low doses. Finally, IRSN currently chairs the European platform, MELODI (an association with 22 members in 2012), whose aims are to improve the coordination and pooling of resources dedicated to research on the effects of low dose radiation in Europe.