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Towards effective radiation protection based on improved scientific evidence and social considerations - focus on radon and NORM

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - RadoNorm (Towards effective radiation protection based on improved scientific evidence and social considerations - focus on radon and NORM)

Reporting period: 2022-03-01 to 2023-08-31

The RadoNorm project addresses the challenge of protecting people from the harmful effects of ionising radiation as well as the radioecological impact of radionuclide contaminations. It aims to lift key uncertainties in risk assessment of low-dose radiation with a special focus on radon and NORM, ranging from the molecular level to the level of human health and the wellbeing of biota in the ecosystem. Exposure assessment, exposure-dose conversion, and their implications for mitigation, along with biological and health effects of radiation are studied in cohorts, including workers from industries processing NORM and members of the public.

In addition, the research will address the existing knowledge gaps in the development and implementation of operational and remedial strategies focused on radon and NORM exposures in dwellings and workplaces, including NORM-involving industries and legacy sites. Understanding the factors contributing to radon and NORM exposure and gaining knowledge on the efficiency and sustainability of countermeasures will help create effective mitigation strategies and develop solutions that are tailored to individual situations.

Moreover, the project proposes systematic and methodologically sound social scientific approaches to study radon and NORM. It aims to identify, develop, and establish strategies to stimulate engagement of different stakeholders in radiation protection measures and raise their awareness. This will be accomplished through the use of the RadoNorm website and social media platforms, engagement with stakeholders, participation in conferences, publications for scientific dissemination, and exploitation of project results, also by use of the public STORE database. The education and training of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers is also a main pillar of the project. Ultimately, the project will help to maximise scientific cooperation and integrate research groups throughout Europe in the area of radiation protection.

The knowledge gained through the project will benefit EU efforts in the development of guidance and operational responses to local radioactive contamination as well as aid the ongoing decommissioning of nuclear power plants across Europe and the subsequent storage of radioactive waste. It will also increase public awareness of radiation protection measures.
The first 18 months of the project involved heavy planning and orientation. This included thorough literature review in all involved research fields and the establishment of protocols and procedures for data gathering, evaluation, communication, and dissemination. Several important questionnaires and e-surveys were formulated and distributed among various stakeholders.

In the fields of radioecology and radon and NORM exposure assessments, sites for field study were identified, the relevant parameters for data collection and surveying were established, and soils for laboratory experiments were identified. There has been considerable cross-talk between work packages, where data such as the dose distribution in human lungs has been shared between partners, which will then be used later for epidemiological studies, mechanistic studies and modelling.

Several indoor radon measurement campaigns in dwellings and underground workplaces have successfully commenced. Specific laboratory experiments were carried out focusing on continuous radon monitors and personal dosimeter testing, and the radon diffusion coefficient determination in radon-proof membranes.

External stakeholders such as industrial representatives and various authorities were engaged and involved in raising awareness and data acquisition. They have participated in a first technical workshop on “liquid NORM discharges” and have been solicited to answer a wide e-survey dedicated to gather specific information on various NORM topics from regulators and industry operators across Europe. With regard to research in social sciences and humanities, citizen science projects have been prepared in the countries of Ireland, France, Romania and Norway for radon measurement and mitigation activities. A systematic literature review of the social sciences was undertaken, which identified gaps in the societal aspects of radon and NORM, highlighting that significantly more information was available for radon than NORM. The review, available in an open-access article, was able to shed light on the state-of-the-art methods for investigating societal aspects of radon and NORM, which would not only encourage researchers to use standardised methods but also develop and test out new methods. A second article evaluating the citizen science contributions to radon research was also published, identifying the lessons learned and helping inspire and orient future projects.

The data management plan for the project was set in place along with the strategy for communication, dissemination and exploitation of results. This involved the launch of the RadoNorm website and LinkedIn and Twitter feeds, giving the general public more opportunities to access the outputs of the project. In terms of data management, the STORE database was upgraded for easy handling of big data, while its contents were also extended.

Following job advertising on national and international platforms, early career scientists (ECR) and PhD students were recruited. For education and training activities, courses spanning the natural sciences and social sciences were organised. Travel grants were also awarded for research and scientific activities. To stimulate cross-talk between researchers within the RadoNorm project, the first set of PhD & ECR days was organised, which helped connect scientists between work packages and fostered data and information exchange. In this regard, the project kick-off meeting and the 1st annual meeting were also vital in order to update other work packages about the progress made and orient ongoing research.

It is worth addressing, that despite the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was possible to carry out the work and, whenever necessary, to adapt it to the situation.
Several work packages in the project have conducted in-depth literature reviews and the summaries generated present insightful information on policies regarding radon and NORM, and identify gaps in research.

Much progress beyond the state of the art has been made with raising awareness of radon and NORM through various conferences, workshops and courses, along with engaging the public through social media platforms and the RadoNorm website. The results of the project have been published in the usual way in peer-reviewed journals. Personnel in the form of PhD students and ECRs have also been recruited and are being trained in their respective fields.

The programme will ultimately aim to consolidate science-based policy recommendations to decision makers in the field of radiation protection by combining broad expertise in all fields of radiation protection research and risk management. Furthermore, it is already helping to bring together the radiation protection scientific community at the EU level to improve coordination of research efforts, which would finally provide clear and transparent guidelines to the general public on how to mitigate risks and deal with exposure to radon and NORM.