Dear Dr. Zoomie – I’m new to this whole radiation safety business and I’ve got a lot of questions about the right way to do things. Can you tell me where I can find the information I need to do my job right? Thanks!
If you’re looking for information there are three categories of resources – people, websites, and documents. Let’s take each of them in turn.
The best way to get an answer to your questions is often to ask someone. This can be a consultant, but it can also be someone who works in radiation safety and is willing to lend a hand. If you want to retain a consultant we can modestly put ourselves forward (although there are other people who do this sort of work as well). But before you call us up, there are some other people you can check.
For example, the Health Physics Society (www.hps.org) is the nation’s premier radiation safety professional societies. It might not make sense for you to join the HPS, but joining your local chapter almost always makes sense – local chapters meet at least once annually (some have monthly or bi-monthly meetings), and chapter meetings are a great way to get to know others in your area who also work with radiation safety – you can find out how to join your local chapter by going to the HPS web page.
You can also try to contact people directly. For example, if you have a large research university nearby (or a big hospital) there’s a good chance that the Radiation Safety Officer is a full-time health physicist. So if you call their radiation safety office you should be able to be put in touch with a radiation safety professional who likely has the time and ability to give you a hand. Even if not, he or she can most likely put you in touch with someone – one of their colleagues – who can help out.
While there are a ton of websites that include – or are even dedicated to – information on radiation, few of them are really good. You have to beware of the great number of anti-nuclear websites that are out there; the information that they have is usually wrong and is almost always incomplete. If you’re looking for scholarly analysis, practical help, or regulatory information your best bet is to go to one of the regulatory agencies, or a professional organization that serves the radiation safety community. Some of these are:
Health Physics Society www.hps.org (includes a great deal of information for the general public, and even more information for members – also has an “Ask the Experts” feature where you can post questions)
International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA) http://irpa.net/index.asp (more of an international resource, including links to information documents and the Proceedings from some IRPA meetings.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission www.nrc.gov (includes regulations, fact sheets, and regulatory guidance documents)
Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/radiation/ (the home page for EPA’s radiation regulations and information on radiation-related topic)
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/ (contains a great deal of information on the health effects of radiation and on responding to radiation emergencies)
National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) http://ncrponline.org/ (NCRP has published nearly 200 reports on various aspects of radiation safety, many of which are likely relevant for your work)
International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) www.icrp.org (the ICRP is an international body that makes recommendations on various aspects of radiation safety)
United Nations Science Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) http://www.unscear.org/ (UNSCEAR has published a number of definitive reports on the sources of radiation – both natural and man-made – and their health effects)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) https://www.iaea.org/ (IAEA is best known for conducting nuclear safeguards inspections, but they also have a large number of documents on various aspects of radiation safety, including model procedures, suggested regulations, and incident reports)
American College of Radiology (ACR) http://www.acr.org/quality-safety/radiology-safety/radiation-safety (the ACR is primarily a society for clinicians, but they maintain a great deal of information on the safe use of radiation in medicine
Radiation Event Medical Management http://www.calhospitalprepare.org/post/radiation-event-medical-management-remms (a very useful site with information, downloads, and calculators, mostly aimed at emergency response, but with a lot that can be used everyday)
Rad Pro Calculator http://www.radprocalculator.com/ (includes calculators for radiation unit conversions, dose, decay, and so forth)
In addition to all of these, there are a number of software packages and smartphone apps that might be useful. But since these come and go so rapidly I’ve decided not to list them here – you should do a search to see what is out now (one of my favorites is The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, but the IAEA isotope browser is also useful).
Those of you who are (like me) still a fan of hardcopy references will also find a great deal to make you happy. In addition to the reports of the NCRP, ICRP, IAEA and UNSCEAR (all of which you can download in PDF or purchase hard copies), here are a few of the very many references that you might find useful.
Health Physics and Radiological Health (Johnson and Birky) – if you are going to have only one professional reference in your library it should be this one – it’s the single most comprehensive one-volume reference out there.
Basic Radiation Protection Technology (Gollnick) – a classic text aimed at the technician; presents material that is complete and easy to understand.
Introduction to Health Physics (Cember and Johnson) – a higher-level text aimed at the college student; unless you’re a professional health physicist you probably don’t need this level of detail
Environmental Radioactivity from Natural, Industrial, and Military Sources (Eisenbud and Gesell) – if you’re working with environmental radiation safety or in industries that generate naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) then you should have a copy of this book; it’s the definitive text on radiation in the environment
Radiological Risk Assessment and Environmental Analysis (Till and Grogan) – a somewhat higher-level book that will be of most use if you are working on environmental projects or for a company that produces a great deal of radioactive byproducts (e.g. from mineral processing)
Radiation Protection and Dosimetry (Stabin) – an introductory college-level introduction to the science and profession of health physics
This list just scratches the surface. I have two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with professional references and journals, but the majority of these are very specialized and would probably not be of much interest to you. But between the books listed here and appropriate reports from NCRP, ICRP, IAEA, and UNSCEAR you should be in pretty good shape.