About us

The World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation, representing 55 science journalists’ associations of science and technology journalists from Africa, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. The Federation encourages strong, critical coverage of issues in science and technology, environment, health and medicine, agriculture and related fields.

The WFSJ seeks to further science journalism as a bridge between science, scientists and the public. It promotes the role of science journalists as key players in civil society and democracy. The Federation’s goals are to improve the quality of science reporting, promote standards and support science and technology journalists worldwide.

European Nuclear Education Network (ENEN) is an International non-profit organization established on 22 September 2003 under the French Law. ENEN’s mission is the preservation and further development of expertise in the nuclear fields by higher Education and Training.

History

A brief history of radioactivity and culture for safety

When talking about culture for nuclear safety one thinks immediately about nuclear reactors and accidents. But it has to be acknowledged that not long after the discovery of ionizing radiation by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895 (and its use for medicine purposes) it became clear that exposure to high doses of such radiation were detrimental to human health. Both Henri Becquerel, who discovered that uranium salts gave off similar rays naturally in 1896, and Marie Curie, who named the phenomenon radioactivity — and would go on to do much more work with radioactive materials, discovering additional radioactive elements such as thorium, polonium and radium — were irradiated. Marie (Sklodowska) Curie, with her husband, Pierre Curie, pioneered work in radiology, developing and deploying mobile X-Ray machines on the battlefields of World War I.

Despite the first concerns raised in 1904 by Charles Béclère and first hints towards safety culture, by the 1920s, some 400 doctors and physicists using ionizing radiation (then called X-Rays by Roentgen) had died of radiation-related diseases. Marie Curie herself died in 1934 of aplastic anaemia, most probably developed from extended exposure to various radioactive elements.

Detecting radioactivity

Rolf Sievert

From 1920, the work of the Swedish medical physicist Rolf Sievert led to a better understanding and control of radiation, helped by the well-known Geiger counter which allowed detection of ionizing radiation. This instrument was named after Hans Geiger, who invented the principle in 1908, and Walther Müller, who collaborated with Geiger in developing the technique further in 1928 to produce a “Geiger-Müller tube” or G-M tube that could detect different types of radiation. To implement a culture of safety, it is necessary to know what you are looking for.

That same year, 1928, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), an independent, international, non-governmental organization which aimed to provide recommendations and guidance on radiation protection, was founded during the second International Congress of Radiology in Stockholm. It was originally called the International X-ray and Radium Protection Committee (IXRPC). In 1950 it was restructured, and renamed ICRP to take account of new uses of radiation outside the medical area.

Nevertheless, the better knowledge of ionizing radiation didn’t prevent what could be seen as the first worker radioprotection scandal and a serious breach of safety culture, leading to stronger protection laws: the Radium Girls at the United States Radium Corporation, in the late 1920s. Specialized in the business of producing radio-luminescent paint (made from a mix of radium and zinc sulphite) for dials, watches and aircraft instruments, the company was employing young women whose task was to hand-paint watch and gauge faces. As they were instructed to maintain a fine tip on their paintbrushes by licking them, many developed a condition called radium jaw (radium necrosis), a painful swelling and porosity of the upper and lower jaws that ultimately led to many deaths. Although the lawsuit was settled in 1928, the company continued hand painting operations until 1947, further boosted by World War II demand. Culture for safety was not paramount yet.

Another landmark in radioprotection and safety was reached by an English physicist, Louis Harold Gray, who worked mainly on the effects of radiation on biological systems — inventing the field of radiobiology.

A paradoxical breakthrough

During WWII, it was known that exposure to ionizing radiation could be lethal and could lead to genetic mutations, further heightening concern about the biological effects of exposure. The Manhattan Project, dedicated to developing the first atomic bomb, led to implementation of what could be called one of the first steps to culture of safety. Because this program included 130 000 workers, among them some of the most important physicists of their time, Robert Stone, radiologist and head of the Health Division of the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory (Met Lab – the Chicago part of the Manhattan Project), issued a set of regulations to preserve these highly important « brains » for the USA because of their handling of nuclear materials. He also set up a laboratory dedicated to the study of radiobiology.

After the war, as the United States moved toward further investment in both nuclear weaponry (tests in the Pacific Ocean) and civilian nuclear energy (with the first reactors to produce electricity), the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) — predecessor of today’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) — laid out increasingly stringent safeguards to protect both civilians and nuclear workers.

This effort culminated in the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) protocol, which eventually became adopted as the gold standard of radiation protection. At the same time, the hydrogen bomb explosion that irradiated a Japanese fishing crew on the boat Lucky Dragon, in the Bikini atoll in 1954 led to the creation of a United Nations committee dedicated to studying the health effects of atomic radiation, UNSCEAR, in 1955. Two years later, UN members created the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has enshrined in its statute Safety and Security; Science and Technology; and Safeguards and Verification.

As safety culture is, by definition, an evolving concept, these standards have evolved, as we will see in other sections.

http://www.irsn.fr/EN/publications/thematic-radiation-protection/radiation-protection-stories/Pages/11-first-steps-towards-radiation-protection.aspx

X rays, gamma rays, alpha particles, and beta particles are ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation has a lot of energy that gives it the ability to cause changes in atoms—a process called ionization. Radio and TV signals, microwaves, and laser light are types of non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation has less energy than ionizing radiation.