Radiation protection for mankind and the environment

“Radiation protection” is understood as the protection of humankind and the environment against the harmful effects of ionising and non-ionising radiation. This includes:

  • measures for limiting and minimising risks caused by the operation of nuclear plants, medical applications and low and high frequency fields;
  • the removal or minimisation of the impacts of earlier activities of man (e.g. the uranium ore mining previously carried out by the Wismut mining company); and
  • design of facilities which could lead to long-term adverse effects for future generations (permanent disposal sites for radioactive waste).

Protection against adverse impacts of technology – for man and the environment

New questions which require solutions from diverse scientific disciplines are always arising in the field of radiation protection. Oeko-Institut carries out research into these areas and provides answers for the most important challenges.

In radioecology the transportation of radioactive substances in the environment and the exposure of humans, flora and fauna to radiation are examined and modelled. The objective is to determine whether current requirements can also be met in the long term.

With regard to serious accidents, in particular those involving core meltdowns, disaster management and radiation protection measures must be planned in such a way that the radiological impacts are minimised by well-tailored measures in the short and long term. The discharge of radioactive substances into the environment has to be measured, monitored, and evaluated with a view to possible impacts.

As regards contaminated sites it needs to be examined whether remediation is necessary, how it can be carried out and how the sites can be monitored in future. For many questions, risk communication is important, particularly in the case of low and high frequency fields, and when dealing with contaminated sites.

Oeko-Institut analyses storage issues following a serious nuclear power accident

Serious accidents in nuclear power plants can have substantial radiological impacts on the immediate and wider area. Depending on the season, this can lead, amongst other things, to the contamination of large quantities of agricultural products.

Should the EU maximum levels for food be exceeded in such a case as this, the products are not allowed to be put on the market. As a result, large quantities of contaminated agricultural products have to be disposed of; if necessary they are treated first.

In 2008 the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety gave Oeko-Institut the task of providing clarification on technical and legal issues relating to the removal of contaminated radioactive waste from agricultural production in the case of large-scale environmental contamination.

First of all an accident scenario (meltdown) was developed in which a large area of Germany is affected. In this scenario it would no longer be possible to put the agricultural production of approx. 60 percent of the total area of Germany on the market.

Oeko-Institut began by determining the quantities of agricultural products which would require storage. Then the researchers analysed how this storage could be implemented technically and legally. To this end, the actual capacities of current storage options and facilities in the field of waste management were determined.

In many cases it turned out that there are suitable options for interim storage so that shortages in terms of storage facilities and transportation can be countered. Oeko-Institut has also conducted an analysis of open legal issues relating to the implementation of radiation protection measures.

Scientific basis for the protection of mankind

Research into issues relevant to radiation protection has a long tradition at Oeko-Institut. Its office in Darmstadt (Hesse) has substantially contributed to the development of new approaches for evaluating existing radiological impacts and possible accident-related risks.

Key elements of our research have included:

  • in-depth responses to enquiries from the general public and diverse state and private organisations on the consequences of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl;
  • analysis of the possible impacts of accidents at nuclear reactors located in Germany; and
  • involvement in the remediation of contamination resulting from uranium ore mining and, currently, wide-ranging participation in addressing problems relating to the use of the Asse mine (a former salt mine located in lower Saxony) as a repository for radioactive waste.

Measures for protecting man and the environment have to be integrated in corresponding regulations. These must be continually updated. The interdisciplinary knowledge and the long-standing experience of Oeko-Institut in the field of radiation protection make it possible for us to carry out complex projects.

Oeko-Institut provides research-based consultancy to institutions responsible for these issues on local and national levels, and has members on the board of such committees as the German Commission on Radiological Protection, the German Reactor Safety Commission and the German Nuclear Waste Management Commission.