Radiation Protection in Natural Radiation Sources
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In some areas in which people are present for occupational reasons, naturally occurring radioactive substances can lead to increased radiation exposure. Until now, separate regulations have applied to protect workers from such natural radiation sources (Natürliche Strahlenquellen-Verordnung – Natural Radiation Sources Ordinance – and the Strahlenschutzverordnung fliegendes Personal – Radiation Protection Ordinance for flying personnel).
With the new radiation protection law that entered into force on August 1, 2020, the radiation protection regulations concerning artificial radioactive substances and terrestrial natural radioactive substances have largely been harmonised. For this reason, the provisions for both areas are anchored in the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 with the Natürliche Strahlenquellen-Verordnung ceasing to be in force. This means, amongst others, that (unlike in the past) companies that carry out activities involving naturally occurring radioactive materials are now also subject to the licensing or notification requirements under sections 15 to 17 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020, unless an exemption is granted under sections 7 or 8 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020.
The areas of work where increased radiation exposure of workers to terrestrial natural radioactive substances is possible are listed in Appendix 3 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020. As in the past, these are, in particular, the following company sectors:
- Water supply enterprises
- Radon health resorts
- Industrial/commercial use of products containing thorium
- High-pressure liquid cutting and sandblasting
- Processing of raw phosphates, for example, in the fertiliser industry
- The zirconium and zirconia industry
In line with EU requirements, three industrial sectors have been added to this scope: cement production, including maintenance of clinker ovens, primary iron production, and tin, lead and copper smelting.
If residues enriched with natural radioactive substances accumulate during work processes, radiation protection measures must be taken as before.
If a company falls within the scope of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020, its owner must commission a certified monitoring service. The assignment includes a dose estimate for those workers who could be exposed to increased radiation exposure and, if necessary, the assessment of the activity concentration of residues and radioactive substances discharged with air or wastewater.
These estimates and assessments shall be repeated periodically, with cycles depending on the hazard potential (five or ten years). In addition, they must be repeated in the event of changes relevant to radiation protection (section 17 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020). To ensure that from a radiation protection point of view there is still no increased official control effort, this also applies to companies that are not subject to licensing or notification requirements.
Depending on the results of the estimates and assessments, the companies are subject to either an authorisation requirement, a notification requirement or exemption from the notification requirement. The latter possibility exists if the results of the assessment and estimates suggest that radiation protection relevance is very low.
An enterprise is subject to licensing if workers are to be classified as "exposed workers" or if the discharges or residues exceed certain values specified in section 7 paragraph 2 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020. In this case, the provisions for practices requiring a licence will apply.
A company is obliged to notify if the activity concentrations of the residues are increased but do not exceed the limits for the obligation to obtain a licence and the expected radiation doses of the workers and the discharge values are within the normal range. The Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 specifies values for activity concentrations above which they are to be considered relevant to radiation protection.
If the company is subject to licencing or notification requirements, it must take appropriate technical and/or organisational measures to ensure that radiation exposure of persons and the environment is kept as low as reasonably achievable. The company is best advised to clarify which measures are appropriate with the monitoring service.
Compliance with radiation protection is periodically monitored by the authority. In the case of companies subject to licencing at least every three years and in the case of companies subject to notification at least every five years (section 61 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020).
In the case of residues, the monitoring service determines whether they are harmless from the radiation protection point of view and can thus be disposed of or recycled in compliance with the provisions of waste management law. Otherwise, these residues must be disposed of as radioactive waste (see "Disposal of radioactive waste").
The protection of workers from cosmic radiation is a special case. The regulations for the protection of this group of persons remain unchanged from the previous regulations. Air carriers are obliged to implement radiation protection measures for their personnel who are increasingly exposed to cosmic radiation during flights. These regulations are now also anchored in the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020 (sections 87 to 90). The previously applicable Radiation Protection Ordinance for flying personnel has been repealed.
Companies in areas of activity listed in Appendix 3 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 and aviation companies.
Companies according to Appendix 3 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020:
- Immediate initiation of the dose estimation or, as may be the case, after modification of radiation protection relevant parameters (for example, extension/modification of the work process)
- If radioactive material is discharged:
- initiation of the assessment of the activity concentration of the effluent without undue delay
- If the activity concentration exceeds the values in Table 3 of Section C of Appendix 2: initiation of dose estimation for the population without undue delay
- If there are any residues:
- initiation of the assessment of the activity concentration of the residues without undue delay
- If the activity concentration exceeds the values in Appendix 1, Section D, Table 3, column 2: initiation of dose estimation for the population without undue delay
- Repetition of the dose estimate every five years (if exposed workers are present), otherwise every ten years
Transitional periods for companies whose activities were previously covered by the Natural Radiation Sources Ordinance can be found in section 127 paragraph 1 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020. A transitional period has also been established for companies in the aforementioned industrial sectors that are new to the scope (section 127 paragraph 2 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020).
Depending on the result of the dose estimation and the assessment of the activity concentrations, further deadlines may arise. This will be the case if the results of the activity assessment make the company's activities subject to licensing or notification requirements.
Airlines: Dose estimates every five years or immediately after changes in radiation protection-relevant parameters.
- Enterprises according to Appendix 3 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020: respective office of the provincial government
- Airlines: Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (→ BMK)
- Companies subject to authorisation: see article "Activities Subject to Authorisation"
- Companies subject to notification obligations: The application to notify the activity must contain the documents specified in section 15 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020.
- Sections 15 to 18 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020 (Radiation Protection Act 2020)
- Sections 23 to 28 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020 (Radiation Protection Act 2020) and sections 11 to 18 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020)
(provisions for practices involving naturally occurring radioactive materials)
- Sections 87 to 90 of the Strahlenschutzgesetz 2020 (Radiation Protection Act 2020) and secions 119 to 122 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020)
(provisions regarding occupational exposure to cosmic radiation)
- Section 127 of the Allgemeine Strahlenschutzverordnung 2020 (General Radiation Protection Ordinance 2020)
A list of the certified monitoring servicesGerman text and more detailed information as well as brochures are available on the website of the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology.
Responsible for the content: Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology