IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Enhancing Nuclear Safety


The effects on health of chronic contamination with a low dose of radionuclides

(juillet 2011)

RESEARCH allowing the evaluation of radionuclide-related risks and their impact on health

The ENVIRHOM-Santé experimental research programme or Understanding the effects on health of chronic contamination with a low dose of radionuclides

The brain: A new target organ to uranium

Is the xenobiotic detoxification system affected by chronic exposure to uranium ?

Chronic ingestion of caesium 137 in a post-accident situation

Chronic exposure to caesium 137: Experimental and epidemiological studies

Metabolomics: Application in radiotoxicology

The perspectives of the ENVIRHOM-Santé programme

RESEARCH allowing the evaluation of radionuclide-related risks and their impact on health


Director of Human Radioprotection at the IRSN


The international system for protection against ionising radiation1 is based essentially on a no-threshold linear relationship between the dose received and the risk of occurrence of radio-induced cancer. Biological and health-related effects other than cancers are considered deterministic effects, the severity of which depends on the dose. The occurrence is considered only for doses above certain threshold values.

In the domain of low and very low doses2 below these threshold values, these effects other than cancers are overlooked by the international radioprotection system. Certain recent epidemiological data nevertheless suggest that some effects other than cancers could appear at low doses, e.g. cardiovascular diseases, but this is not evidence-based. Today, there is still a lack of knowledge, mainly experimental, regarding the existence of biological and health effects other than the risk of developing cancer at low doses. Such knowledge would corroborate these epidemiological hypotheses.

The aim of the ENVIRHOM-Santé research programme is to highlight the nature and relevance of non-cancerous biological effects during chronic exposure to radionuclides. This scientific programme also sheds light on the questions repeatedly asked in society about the effects of chronic exposure, which are representative of general population exposure. This subject-specific dossier outlines the main results obtained within the scope of this programme to date.

Furthermore, these results have featured in more than 50 publications. In the future, these studies will be continued as part of the MELODI (Multidisciplinary European Low Dose Initiative) initiative - a European research platform, which will promote synergy between the various teams helping to expand scientific knowledge of the effects of low doses of ionising rays.



1) The directives and basic radioprotection standards are based on analyses carried out by UNSCEAR (United nations scientific committee on the effects of atomic radiation) and the recommendations put forward by the ICRP (International commission on radiological protection).

2) Doctors refer to low doses as exposures below a hundred millisieverts (mSv) and very low doses as exposures of a few mSv, comparable to those to which human beings are naturally subjected.



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