The Bureau's mission is to ensure that public and occupational exposure to radiation from man-made and controllable natural sources, and any corresponding impact on the environment, is As-Low-As-Reasonably-Achievable (ALARA).
Radiation exposure to the public results from both natural and man-made sources. Natural "background" radiation exposure includes: inhaled radon decay products; direct irradiation by uranium and thorium decay products in building materials, soil and rock; ingested naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) such as potassium-40 and cosmic rays that penetrate from space to the earth's surface. Technologically enhanced increases to background radiation are common, too. Examples are higher radiation doses to airline crew and passengers from cosmic rays during commercial air travel and increased NORM in certain industrial practices.
Primary man-made sources of radiation exposure to the public include: prescribed medical and dental x-rays, radiation therapy, and diagnostic and therapeutic nuclear medicine procedures. In contrast, significantly lower radiation exposures to the public result from other man-made sources comprised of: residual fallout from past above ground nuclear weapons tests, consumer products (e.g., smoke detectors, radium dial watches and clocks, uranium-loaded glazes and glass), and routine effluents from various nuclear facilities (e.g., Department of Energy sites and commercial nuclear power plants).
It is important to note that there are essential uses of radiation and radioactivity in our modern technological society. Examples include medical diagnostic and therapy procedures, tracer studies in biomedical research, nondestructive testing and analysis of materials, industrial radiography and gauging, oil exploration, food preservation, etc. Radiation workers employed in these areas are exposed to the same natural background and man-made sources as the public, but may also encounter higher radiation levels as a result of their occupation. Medical radiologists and radiographers, academic, research, and industrial and nuclear power plant personnel are all examples of workers that may be subject to radiation exposure while performing their required duties. As with public exposure to man-made sources, there must be benefit, justification and optimization with any occupational radiation exposure.
High-level radiation exposure (i.e., greater than 10,000 mrem acute) is very rare, but may have potential health risks. From follow-up of the atomic bomb survivors, we know acutely delivered very high radiation doses can increase the occurrence certain kinds of disease (e.g., cancer) and negative genetic effects. To protect the public, radiation workers and environment from the potential effects of low-level exposure (i.e., less than 10,000 mrem), the current radiation safety practice is to prudently assume similar adverse effects are possible with low-level protracted exposure to radiation. Thus, the risks associated with low-level medical, occupational and environmental radiation exposure are conservatively calculated to be proportional to those observed with high-level exposure. These calculated risks are compared to other known occupational and environmental hazards, and appropriate safety standards have been established by international and national radiation protection organizations (e.g., ICRP and NCRP) to control and limit potential harmful radiation effects.
The radiation safety standards of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are based upon international and national recommendations, and the Federal regulations of the NRC, EPA, FDA, FEMA and DOT. These groups continually review the data pertaining to radiation effects through ongoing scientific studies, and update standards when appropriate. Specific legislative authority for the Bureau's radiation safety programs are outlined in the Radiation Protection Act (1984), the Radon Certification Act (1987) and the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Act (1988).
The processes employed by the Bureau to protect the public, workers and environment are established within our four Divisions: Decommissioning & Surveillance, Nuclear Safety, Radiation Control, and Radon. Radiation safety standards and our state program are implemented by means of legislation, regulations, licensing, registration, certification, inspection, oversight, monitoring, and education.
The Bureau's Radiation Control Division performs licensing and registration of radioactive materials and x-ray equipment respectively, with inspections performed by Health Physicists in DEP's Regional Offices. This Division also supports the Solid Waste Radiation Monitoring Program.
The Nuclear Safety Division performs inspections and oversight of nuclear power plants in the Commonwealth, maintains and exercises a comprehensive radiological emergency response capability, and is monitoring the generation and disposal of low-level radioactive waste within the Commonwealth which are presently disposed at out of state licensed facilities.
Our Radon Division provides assistance to homeowners, builders and institutions for the monitoring and mitigation of radon. This program is implemented through regulation and certification of individuals and firms performing radon testing and mitigation for the public, evaluating radon-prone areas, assisting homeowners, and providing information through public outreach efforts.
The Decommissioning and Surveillance Division is performing oversight of numerous facility and site cleanups in the state. This Division also carries out the environmental monitoring around nuclear facilities, and subsequent laboratory sample analysis.
As directed by the Radiation Protection Act and DEP's mission statement, the Bureau plays a vital role in protecting public health and safety. The Bureau of Radiation Protection is staffed by professionals committed to protecting the public, workers and environment from any potential negative effects resulting from radiation exposure.
Additional details of the Bureau's role and responsibilities with respect to Radiation Protection in the Commonwealth may be found in its Functional Statement.