The new Radiation Protection Act: The major changes in radiation protection

24.07.2017

© istockphoto.com/ dennisvdw

This year, the German body of laws is added by a Radiation Protection Act. The trigger for a reform of radiation protection legislation was the European directive 2013/59 / EURATOM. The Act modernises and extends the existing rules and regulations and adapts them to the current state of the art in science and technology. An important part of the new Act is the reorganisation of radiological emergency protection on the basis of the lessons learned from Fukushima. Here are some of the major changes at a glance.

1. Radiological emergency preparedness

The new law modernises the system for the management of emergencies. In future, all federal and Land authorities involved in the process will have to prepare their emergency plans according to uniform guidelines and co-ordinate their measures to protect the population. The emergency plans are to enable those involved to make quick, concerted decisions and take timely action. Various reference scenarios have been defined for which emergency plans have to be drawn up. These include e.g. an accident in a German nuclear power plant, nuclear security, and a transport accident.

Furthermore, a radiological command and operational centre is set up under the direction of the Federal Environment Ministry. The command and operational centre assesses the radiological situation in a regional emergency and estimates the further development of the radiological situation. Furthermore, the centre has co-ordination and reporting tasks and acts as the contact for authorities in Germany and abroad. GRS is one of the institutions that support the work of the command and operational centre with its emergency organisation.

2.  Radiation protection in planned exposure situations

Until now, radiation protection law in occupational radiation protection has always distinguished between "work" and "activities". Here, "activities" were all those activities in which radioactive substances were used deliberately and consciously, e.g. the handling of artificially generated radioactive substances. The term "work" used to refer to actions in which radioactivity was not specifically used. The distinction between work and activities has been abolished by the Radiation Protection Act. In addition, the Act introduces a new category of regulatory supervision: the so-called notification. In future, the authorities must also be notified of certain activities involving naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM). A notification requirement for these NORM workplaces already exists under the new Act if the activity can lead to an occupational radiation exposure of more than 1 millisievert per year.

In addition, the Act requires that institutions and companies with such reportable workplaces must introduce radiation protection officers. This concerns e.g. waterworks.

3. Radon

Statistically, the naturally occurring radioactive noble gas radon is the most common cause of lung cancer next to smoking. The concentration of radon varies from region to region, depending on the natural occurrence of uranium or thorium in the soil. Comparatively high levels are found, for example, in the Bavarian Forest and the Ore Mountains.

The new law establishes a reference value of 300 Becquerel per cubic meter for living and working spaces. For regions in which this reference level is exceeded, the Länder must develop plans for protective measures. At the same time, builders of new structures in these regions must take measures to prevent the accumulation of radon.

4. Early detection of diseases with X-rays or radioactive substances

For the early detection of diseases, X-rays have hitherto been exclusively allowed in mammography (detection of breast cancer). In the future, the use of ionising radiation or radioactive substances may also be approved for the early detection of other diseases. The prerequisite for approval is that the benefit of the measure is greater than the associated risk.

Work of GRS in connection with the Radiation Protection Act and with and emergency preparedness

GRS participated in the drafting of the Radiation Protection Act and developed e.g. the source terms for the reference scenarios.
In the area of emergency preparedness, GRS supports the work of the federal and Land ministries. The experts of GRS are currently developing prototypes for emergency plans and support the planning of the radiological command and operational centre.
In the future, GRS will continue working closely together with the federal radiological command and operational centre. Here, the focus will be on the organisational networking of GRS with the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, the organisation of the emergency procedures as well as on the development of optimised protection strategies.

Find out more

Act on the reorganisation of the law for the protection against the harmful effects of ionising radiation (as at: 5 May 2017)
FAQ of the Federal Environment Ministry on the Radiation Protection Act