Tools for Placing the Radiological Health Hazard in Perspective Following a Severe Emergency at a Light Water Reactor (LWR) or Its Spent Fuel Pool

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Experience from past nuclear and radiological emergencies shows that placing the radiological health hazard in perspective and having a definition of “safe” are required in order to prevent members of the public, those responsible for protecting the public (i.e., decision makers), and others from taking inappropriate and damaging actions that are not justified based on the radiological health hazard. The principle concerns of the public during a severe nuclear power plant or spent fuel pool emergency are “Am I safe?” and “What should I do to be safe?” However, these questions have not been answered to the satisfaction of the public, despite various protective actions being implemented to ensure their safety. Instead, calculated doses or various measured quantities (e.g., ambient dose rate or radionuclide concentrations) are used to describe the situation to the public without placing them into perspective in terms of the possible radiological health hazard, or if they have, it has been done incorrectly. This has contributed to members of the public taking actions that do more harm than good in the belief that they are protecting themselves. Based on established international guidance, this paper provides a definition of “safe” for the radiological health hazard for use in nuclear or radiological emergencies and a system for putting the radiological health hazard in perspective for quantities most commonly measured after a release resulting from a severe emergency at a light water reactor or its spent fuel pool.

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