Stimulated by the apparition of large-scale environmental problems, the protection of the environment is becoming increasingly prominent within current concerns of human societies. Industrial and economical activities are experiencing detrimental impacts, which sometimes only become apparent after some delay, making it difficult or illusory to set corrective measures. Hence, a better capacity for anticipation needs to be targeted with a concomitant emphasis on regulation efforts to promote “sustainable development”, where there is a balance achieved between technological innovation and the potential for mastering the associated environmental risk. The emphasis on sustainability emphasizes the importance of the interaction and interdependence of man with the environment
It is within this general context that radioprotection is called on today not only to fulfil the goal of protecting man, but also to that of protecting biota within a wide variety of complex environments. This has led the ICRP to reconsider its prior position which stated that protecting humans would implicitly also protect the environment to an adequate extent. This view particularly needed reconsideration due to the lack of an explicit scientific demonstration of its validity and because some exceptions have been identified. In consequence, the ICRP has set up in 2000 a Task Group specifically dedicated to studying this question. The mission goals assigned to the Task Group were to develop a general framework for the radiological protection of non-human biota that would be based upon scientific, philosophical and ethical principles. The Task Group work has been undertaken in view of feeding the debates that the Main Commission intends to launch with the aim of updating its recommendations in 2005.
The first stage results of this work have been recently published by the ICRP and this communication is to present the suggested approach in the broad lines. Largely inspired from the current concepts of human radioprotection, it is also paying attention to the general principles that govern environmental protection in non-nuclear domains. It is based upon a dosimetric approach of exposure applied to some “reference organisms” in order to reduce complexity driven by the biodiversity of life, such as the variety of the organisms with respect geometry, life habits or the functional groups and ecosystems they belong to. It appears premature to attempt quantification of stochastic effects in fauna and flora provided the current available knowledge, and the effect endpoints to quantify risk have therefore been selected as deterministic, and assembled in four main pertinent categories: mortality, morbidity, the success of reproduction processes and cytogenetic effects. For practical reasons, the resulting risk analysis is focused on the individual, and will need later on to be extended to higher levels of organisation, such as populations and ecosystems. Finally, starting from a reference corresponding to the natural background radiation, the definition of several “bands of derived consideration levels” is proposed to rank the risk, and identify appropriate measures for each band.