Exposure of the Population in the United States to Ionizing Radiation

  • Carter Melvin W. (International Radiation Protection Association) ;
  • Oliver Robert W. (Institute of Technology)
  • Published : 1987.12.15


The exposure of the population in the United States to ionizing radiation has recently been evaluated by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP). This was done by constituting six organizational groups to address various phases of the work and the results of this work are summarized in this article. The article is based on the report, by the same title, which is scheduled for publication by the NCRP in September, 1987. The six organizational groups are titled Radiation Exposure from Consumer Products, Natural Background Radiation, Radiation Associated with Medical Examinations, Radiation Received by Radiation Employees, Public Exposure from Nuclear Power, and Exposure from Miscellaneous Environmental Sources. These titles are descriptive of the subject areas covered by each of these separate groups. The data evaluated are for the years 1977-1984 with the majority of the data being for the period 1980-1982. Summary information is presented and discussed for the number of people exposed to given sources, the effective dose equivalent, the average effective dose equivalent to the U.S. population, and the genetically significant dose equivalent. The average annual effective dose equivalent from all sources to the U.S. population is approximately 3.6 mSv (360 mrem). Exposures to natural sources make the largest contribution to this total. Radon and radon decay products contribute 2.0 mSv (200 mrem) whereas the other naturally occurring radionuclides contribute 1.0 mSv (100 mrem). Among man-made or enhanced sources, medical exposures make the largest additional contributions, namely 0.39 mSv (39 mrem) for diagnosis and 0.14 mSv (14 mrem) for nuclear medicine. It was not possible to evaluate exposures for therapy. Most of the other sources of population exposure, including nuclear power and consumer products, are minor. A possible exception would be the use of tobacco products. These exposures are discussed in relation to a negligible individual risk level of $10{\mu}Sv/y$ (1 mrem/y). The NCRP considers exposures below the negligible individual risk level as trivial and as such should be dismissed.