Social and scientific issues in the acceptibility of radiation risks

  • P.A. Green

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Ionising radiation hazards are perhaps the most documented and regulated occupational and environmental hazard. In the radiological protection field a single expert advisory organisation has had an unusually large influence on the international standard setting process. This is the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).
Two common, and opposing views, exist over the formulation of protection recommendations by the ICRP. The first, and most widely accepted, is that its recommendations are scientifically determined. The second view, is that its recommendations are politically or socially determined. Neither of these analyses adequately accounts for the complex process in which protection recommendations are formulated. A third view, provided by studies of the origins of scientific controversy, suggests that both science and social factors are important in the assessment and limitation of risk.
The aim of this thesis is not simply to examine the origin of controversy. Issues of equal, if not more, importance are the resolution of controversy, the formation of consensus and the maintenance of expert authority and influence. These issues form the central focus of this thesis. The aim is to assess the process through which the ICRP formulates its radiological protection recommendations and comment on the extent that these are influenced by the affiliations of its members.
This thesis concludes that the ICRP's recommendations have been shaped by a complex relationship of scientific and social considerations, in which a socio-technical commitment to nuclear energy has played a key role. The Commission has responded to new scientific data by making complex changes to its philosophy and methods of describing risk. Where reductions in numerical limits have been applied they have been accompanied by practical measures designed to limit the impact of the change and provide continuity with the old limits and flexibility in the application of the new recommendations.
Date of AwardSept 1990
Original languageEnglish


  • Social issues
  • scientific issues
  • acceptibility
  • radiation risks

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