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a spatially differentiated life cycle impact assessment method

Human Health

Ionising Radiation

Human Health

Ionising Radiation

Radionuclides are released into the atmosphere during the nuclear fuel cycle and other activities such as the burning of coal. These radionuclides (especially if they are long-lived) eventually end up in the food or water of humans where their ionizing radiation causes damage to ‘Human Health’.

Cause-effect pathway

Radionuclides can be emitted to different environmental compartments (freshwater, seawater or air). Depending on the emission compartment and the radionuclide the human population will be exposed to a larger or smaller part of the ionizing radiation.

picture of Cause-effect pathway

Modeling approach

A marginal approach is used to calculate the effect factors. Semi-empirical data (based on well recorded historic emissions of ozone depleting substance) is used to determine the effect of the different substances on the EESC (Equivalent Effective Stratospheric Chlorine). The EESC is a measure for how much stratospheric ozone can be destroyed. By calculating the resulting (optical) ozone layer thickness the amount of radiation that reaches the earth can be estimated. The increase in skin cancer (and cataract) can be determined from the amount of radiation, however this is dependent on the amount of skin pigment the population has (more pigment means less chance of getting skin cancer). Whether or not exposure to UV radiation causes cataract is uncertain.

Value choices

A number of choices have been made for the calculation of the characterization factors, namely:

  • The time horizon over which effects are assessed
  • Whether or not to include cataract

High level of robustness Low level of robustness
Time horizon 100 years 100 - 100000 years
DDREF 10 2
Included cancer types Thyroid, bone marrow, lung and breast cancer
Hereditary disease
bladder, colon, ovary, skin, liver, oesophagus, stomach, bone surface and remaining types of cancer

Spatial variability

Currently, no spatially explicit models are available to estimate the global spread of the radionuclides and the resulting exposure. Instead the models used are based on standardized situations, resulting in 3 characterization factors (one for each emission compartment).

Characterisation factors

The following equation can be used to calculate the characterisation factors (CF):

CFx,i,TH = CDx,i,TH ·EF

where CD stands for collective dose, and EF for effect factor for radionuclide x, environmental compartment i and time horizon TH.

The collective dose (unit: man-Sv) is a measure for the total exposure to ionizing radiation in the human population as a result of the emission of 1kBq of a radionuclide. By multiplying this total dose by the EF the CF can be calculated. The EF (DALY/man-Sv) itself is the summation of the additional incidence of different cancer types (and hereditary disease) multiplied by their severity.