For information only – not an official document
25 June 2021
65 years of UN Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation
Committee endorses report on occupational exposure to radiation, at its 2021 session
VIENNA, 25 June (UN Information Service) – The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) has endorsed its scientific report entitled “Evaluation of Occupational Exposure to Ionizing Radiation”, at its 68th session, which concluded earlier today.
In this new report, the Scientific Committee has analysed the latest available data up to 2014. It assessed the levels and trends of exposure to natural and artificial (human-made) sources of radiation across a range of occupational sectors including the nuclear fuel cycle, mineral extraction (including coal and uranium), medical and industrial applications and civilian aviation. It is estimated that approximately 25 million monitored workers were exposed to radiation, both natural and artificial sources, in the period 2010-2014. The Committee has been collecting and evaluating sources and levels of occupational exposure since 1975 and noted slight increase compared to the period 1995–1999, when the total estimated number by the Committee was about 23 million workers for both sources. The estimated worldwide average number and annual exposure of monitored workers due to medical uses of radiation has increased while the number of workers in the nuclear fuel cycle has remained constant and their corresponding average annual exposure has decreased.
The report will now follow procedures for finalization with publication targeted for early 2022. The main findings will be presented to the 76th UN General Assembly in October this year.
The UNSCEAR session also marked the 65th anniversary of the Scientific Committee, on the occasion of which the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Inger Andersen, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna, Ghada Waly and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi delivered congratulatory remarks.
Ms. Andersen noted that UNEP and UNSCEAR share a common understanding that objective science is essential to informed decisions. “The value of science has only been emphasized in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNEP is looking forward to working with UNSCEAR to identify new areas to collaborate on strong science that brings the most impact – such as on sustainable energy, people’s safety and a safe environment,” she said.
In her remarks, Ms. Waly pointed out that UNSCEAR’s efforts have prompted reductions in unnecessary radiation exposure, and increased harmonization of safety laws and regulations. “In the Decade of Action to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, the UN family in Vienna has an essential role to play in helping the world recover better and with greater resilience from the COVID crisis and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Building on the accomplishments of the past 65 years, UNSCEAR’s contributions to protecting people and planet through science will be an important part of these efforts,” she added.
Mr. Grossi highlighted the various areas of cooperation and support between the IAEA and the Scientific Committee, saying that the IAEA would continue to rely on its authoritative, trusted, and unbiased scientific work. “Part of the IAEA’s functions is the establishment of safety standards. These need to be based on the most up-to-date information on radiation effects. This has fostered a close, valued partnership with UNSCEAR…By interacting and cooperating closely with UNSCEAR, the IAEA ensures that its safety standards and guidance publications are based on sound scientific principles and internationally peer-reviewed findings,” he said.
During the session, the Scientific Committee also agreed to initiate a new evaluation on diseases of the circulatory system from radiation exposure this year, to be completed in 2025.
Over 220 participants from 27 State Members of the Scientific Committee, four observer countries and twelve international observer organizations also advanced their ongoing work on second primary cancer after radiotherapy; epidemiological studies of radiation and cancer; and evaluation of public exposure to ionizing radiation from natural and other sources. The Future Programme of Work and enhancing data collection and input for ongoing and future UNSCEAR evaluations have been also a key part of the discussions.
Due to the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, the session took place online from 21 to 25 June 2021 and the Scientific Committee also decided to extend the tenure of the current Bureau chaired by Gillian Hirth (Australia) until its 69th session, to be held from 9 to 13 May 2022 in Vienna, Austria.
The mandate of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), established in 1955, is to undertake broad reviews of the sources of ionizing radiation and the effects on human health and the environment. Its assessments provide a scientific foundation for United Nations agencies and governments to formulate standards and programmes for protection against ionizing radiation. It does not deal with or assess nuclear safety or emergency planning issues. The secretariat in Vienna, which is functionally linked to UNEP, organizes the annual sessions, and manages the preparation of documents for the Committee's scrutiny.
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