Radiological protection of human vs. non-human biota

Radiation protection is almost as old as the discovery of radioactivity itself. The field has known quite some transformations. The evolution shows that apart from the technical aspects, radiation protection inherently involves ethical choices. There is an interaction between methodological and normative assumptions at play. One illustration of this interaction can be found in efforts to broaden the traditionally antropocentric rationale for radiation protection towards inclusion of non-human biota.

Previous projects

• Environmental valuation of radiation risks to non-human biota from routine discharges at NPPs

In the framework of a project sponsored by Electrabel (GDF-SUEZ) aiming at assessing the environmental exposure and associated risk to non-human biota from liquid discharges from the Belgian Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs), it was also asked to attribute a monetary value to the potential radiological impact on the environment.

Research questions

We distinguished three research questions to answer this call:

  1. Firstly, what ecosystem services are provided in the potentially affected areas and how could they be damaged by the NPP liquid discharges? The main challenges in answering this question lay in the fact that ecosystems and their services are characterized by enormous dynamic complexity in which causal relationships are often subject to scientific uncertainty.
  2. The second question addresses what these ecosystem services and the potential damage are worth. Answering this question requires a multidisciplinary approach (economy, politics, ethics…). It is challenged by the fact that many natural environmental goods and services are not subject to market transactions and by the inherent subjectivity of valuation.
  3. A third, overarching question thus becomes to investigate how in fact we gather and evaluate the information for both former parts. Answering this question shows how often hidden underlying limitations and assumptions are reflected in the methods environmental risk assessment and radiation protection apply.

Conclusion

We concluded that the rationale of environmental valuation carries with it the potential to enhance the inclusiveness and transparency of environmental decision-making. However, current environmental risk assessment frameworks need to be further developed and existing methods of environmental valuation further investigated to allow this rationale to be realized in practice. In this context, the research also provides a reflection on the potential integration of the non-human and human radiation protection, with a focus on the evaluation of the respective epistemological and ethical aspects, in particular knowledge gaps and framework assumptions.

More information: Environmental valuation: http://publications.sckcen.be/dspace/handle/10038/7040

Contact: Schröder Jantine