6. A Safe Radiation Environment

6. A Safe Radiation Environment. Photo: Kenneth Bengtsson/Johnér Bildbyrå."Human health and biological diversity must be protected against the harmful effects of radiation."

Radiation has always been part of our natural environment, originating from space, the sun, and naturally radioactive substances in the ground and in our own bodies. We have developed ways of producing radiation and making use of radiation properties in research, health care and industry, for example involving X-ray technology and the use of uranium in nuclear power reactors. Radiation can also occur in the form of electromagnetic fields, for instance as radio waves from mobile phones and magnetic fields from power lines.

Radiation can be beneficial, but it can also cause damage. To minimise its harmful effects on humans and the environment, all activities involving radiation have to be justified. This means that the radiation must do more good than harm and that doses must be limited as far as is reasonably possible.

What are the challenges?

The annual incidence of skin cancer – the main cause of which is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation – continues to rise. To reverse this trend, exposure from both outdoor sunbathing and sunbed use needs to be reduced. This will require changes in people’s lifestyles and attitudes to personal appearance and sunbathing.

Discharges of radioactive substances from nuclear facilities are normally very low and pose no health risk to the general public. Spent nuclear fuel remains radioactive for a very long time, which is why a permanent repository needs to be built for it.

There are currently two areas in which research has identified a risk of possibly harmful effects on health from exposure to electromagnetic fields. One area concerns low-frequency magnetic fields from sources such as power lines; the other area is radio waves from mobile phones. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority therefore recommends that certain precautions be taken.

When planning for new housing and infrastructure, recommendations should be followed regarding magnetic fields from power lines. Reducing one’s exposure from mobile phones is easily done, for instance by using hands-free equipment.