- Category: Communications
- Published: Monday, 14 May 2012 15:00
The precautionary principle is one of the core values structuring the radiation protection system. Finding its roots in the Western tradition in the virtue of prudence developed by Aristotle, the concept of precaution can also be found in the Buddhist philosophy, the teaching of Confucius and in the ancient traditions of the peoples of
Presentation at IRPA13, Glasgow, Scotland, 14-18 May 2012.
The precautionary principle is one of the core values structuring the radiation protection system. Finding its roots in the Western tradition in the virtue of prudence developed by Aristotle, the concept of precaution can also be found in the Buddhist philosophy, the teaching of Confucius and in the ancient traditions of the peoples of Eurasia, Oceania and America.
The precautionary principle was incorporated into the radiological protection system in the early fifties in order to take account of the uncertainties about the risk and the irreversibility of the stochastic effects. Thereafter, the system was structured with the three principles that remains valid today: justification, optimisation and limitation, optimization being without doubt the cornerstone. Two aspects should be underlines in the implementation of these principles. The first is without doubt the progressive recognition that approaches which aim to base the search for “reasonable” levels of protection in the form of equations as a way to implement the precautionary principle necessarily involve over simplification. This led to successively incorporate into the optimisation process components developed in the field of management techniques and approaches calling on the direct involvement of all parties involved in the implementation of protection. The second aspect is related to the change of logical mindset when one moves from the approach of preventing proven risks (deterministic effects) to the precautionary approach aimed at mitigating hypothetical risks (stochastic effects). This difficulty is manifest in the handling of threshold values and associated dose limits. One moves from prevention to precaution while keeping the same form, but changing some of the basics. Not all parties who have to adapt this frame of reference to their daily work grasp the change in operation and some continue to think on the lines of limiting “precautionary” values as being the same as limiting “preventative” values. It is for this reason that the precautionary principle needs a clear culture, like that which the ALARA culture currently seeks to promote.
The paper presents first the ethical values underlying the precautionary principle. The second part presents how the system of protection evolved to incorporate the uncertainty associated to the existence of stochastic effects associated to radiation exposure. The third part reviews the procedural aspects associated to the practical implementation of the precautionary principle through the optimisation of protection process that apply to all exposure situations. In conclusion the paper addresses the pitfalls associated to a wrong appreciation of the role of the precautionary principle in the system of radiological protection and the importance to develop a strong ALARA culture among professionals in order to overcome the associated difficulties.