EPRI: Low-dose radiation may not be as harmful as believed

19 November 2009– A new report from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) said low-dose radiation levels might not be as harmful as previously reported.

The report, called the Evaluation of Updated Research on the Health Effects and Risks Associated with Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation, said the health effects of low levels of radiation among radiation workers, like those in nuclear power plants, have been predominantly based on effects seen at high levels of radiation. Radiation workers have generally not been exposed to more than 50 mSv (5 rem) of radiation since 1989, according to the report.

The EPRI research team reviewed more than 200 peer-reviewed publications as part of its report, including recent studies that were not included in previous reports. According to EPRI’s analysis, when low doses of radiation are delivered over a longer period of time, it is much less effective in producing biological changes compared to when the same dose is delivered in a short time period, meaning risks due to low dose rates may be over-estimated.

Another conclusion is that individual radiation doses of less than 10 rem in a single exposure, similar to what many nuclear power plant workers are exposed to, are too small to allow detection of cancers caused by radiation compared to naturally-occurring cancers.

However, EPRI said more research needs to be done to accurately study the effects of low levels of radiation on human health in the nuclear power industry.
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