12 March 2021

Research pick: Living with radioactivity - "Living in radioactive environments: a non-human perspective"

Recently, environmental protections have been put into place to safeguard non-human animals, plants, and other living things that exist in radioactive places. Indeed, radiation protection of non-humans has been written into the International Commission on Radiation Protection) framework.

New research in the International Journal of Low Radiation suggests that the framework in using a reference animal and plant approach matching the anthropocentric ‘reference human’ approach has significant shortcomings. While this approach can be implemented relatively easily, it wholly ignores the biology involved in the management of radiation damage in wild populations. Moreover, it simply ignores the complexity and interdependence of natural ecosystems.

Carmel Mothersill and Colin Seymour of the Department of Biology at McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, Canada, point out that internationally a more ecocentric and holistic approach is needed. Indeed, it is being looked at by some stakeholders. They point out that problems such as biodiversity collapse cannot be predicted in the wake of environmental problems based on measurements made at the level of the individual.

There remain many unknowns and uncertainties in the field. We do not necessarily know what abnormal means in the wider context when looking at individual exposure, for instance. The impact of exposure to high levels of radiation can be obvious, problems arise in our understanding given our limited tools when we need to consider the more subtle effects of low dose exposure, how this affects individuals, across the generations, and across their ecosystems.

The team discusses some promising new ideas, which they suggest may lead to more integrated protection systems involving the ecosystem as a central focus rather than the individual.

Mothersill, C.E. and Seymour, C. (2020) ‘Living in radioactive environments: a non-human perspective‘, Int. J. Low Radiation, Vol. 11, Nos. 3/4, pp.178-185.

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