Background to the ECRR

Background: the ECRR

The European Committee on Radiation Risk was formed in 1997 following a resolution made at a conference in Strasbourg arranged by the Green Group in the European Parliament. The meeting was called specifically to discuss the details of the ‘Basic Safety Standards’ Directive on radiological protection (Council Directive 96/29/Euratom). This Directive, which had been adopted by the Council of Ministers in May 1996, contained a statutory framework for the recycling and reuse of radioactively contaminated wastes and materials so long as the concentrations of itemised radionuclides were below certain levels.

The Greens were alarmed at the potential for radioactivity to be incorporated into consumer goods and attempted to amend the draft. The Council however almost completely disregarded the proposed amendments. The Greens were therefore further concerned about the lack of democratic control over such a seemingly important issue and wished for some scientific advice regarding the possible health effects of recycling man-made radioactivity. The feeling of the meeting was that there was considerable disagreement over the health effects of low-level radiation and that this issue should be explored on a formal level. To this end, the meeting voted to set up a new body which they named ‘The European Committee on Radiation Risk’

The remit of this group was to investigate and ultimately report on the issue in a way that considered all the available scientific evidence. In particular, the Committee’s remit was to make no assumptions whatever about preceding science and to remain independent from the previous risk assessment committees such as the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and the European Commission or EU member State risk agencies.

Shortly after the ECRR was formalized the STOA unit of the European Parliament arranged (on the 5th Feb 1998) a workshop in Brussels to consider criticisms of the risk model underpinning the Basic Safety Standards Directive. At this meeting the eminent Canadian scientist Dr Rosalie Bertell argued that the ICRP, for historical reasons to do with the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear power during the cold war period, were biased in favour of the nuclear industry and that their conclusions and advice in the area of low-level radiation and health were insecure. Unfortunately, the STOA rapporteur, Professor Assimakopoulos, did not properly report Dr Bertell’s presentation, which was wide ranging and extremely critical of the ICRP and its advice.

Responding to Dr. Bertell, Dr Valentin, the scientific secretary of ICRP, told the workshop that the ICRP was an independent body which gave advice on radiation safety, but that those who considered this advice unsafe or questionable were entirely free to consult any other group or organisation.

It was a widely held view, both at the STOA workshop and at the initial meeting of the ECRR, that enough evidence was available showing that low level exposure to man-made radioactive material caused ill health, and that the conventional models of the ICRP and other agencies which used the same radiation risk models entirely failed to predict these effects. Members of the European Parliament therefore took note of Dr. Valentin’s suggestion and agreed to support the preparation of a new report by the ECRR which would provide an alternative analysis.

In 2001 various members of the European Parliament together with two charitable bodies supported the drafting of a report. Following consultation among the Scientific Committee this was published on 30 January 2003.

Professor Alice Stewart, the first scientist to establish the health effects of low doses of radiation, agreed to be the first Chair of the ECRR. The committee dedicated its first report – the 2003 Recommendations – to her memory.

The Chair of the Scientific Committee is Professor Inge Schmitz-Feuerhake. The Scientific Secretary is Dr. Chris Busby. A full list of people who were consulted and whose research and advice have so far contributed to the work of the Committee is included in the 2010 Recommendations.
The new Recommendations maintained the dedication to Professor Alice Stewart, and added a dedication to the memory of Professor Edward Radford, whose career was destroyed after he resigned from the ICRP over his disagreements about the accuracy of their risk model.
The new volume also recognises that at the first international scientific conference in 2009 the Committee awarded the Ed Radford Memorial Prize, donated by Professor Radford’s widow Jennifer and the Radford family in the USA to Prof Yuri I Bandashevsky who, through his scientific research and publications, called attention to the effects of internal radioactivity from Chernobyl on the health of the children of Belarus and was rewarded by arrest and imprisonment.

There are two sub-committees: one on Depleted Uranium/ Uranium weapons and one on post-Chernobyl effects. Both should be contacted through the postal and email addresses given on the home page.
The first report of the Chernobyl sub-committee was published in 2006 and a second updated edition was published in 2009. See home page.

The Committee’s report on the effects of Uranium was published in February 2010.

An international scientific conference was held in Lesvos in May 2009.