Svenska Strålsäkerhetssmyndigheten (SSM) utbildar kollegor i Ukraina i radonmätning.

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) trains colleagues in Ukraine in radon measuring. In the long term, this also improves the conditions for a healthier life.

Photo: Olga German/SSM

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Radiation protection in the aftermath of Chernobyl

Updated: 26 August 2014

The nuclear power station disaster in Chernobyl in 1986 is still casting its shadow over Ukraine and the world. The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (SSM) is implementing a series of projects in Eastern Europe to improve radiation protection and reduce the risk of emissions. Olga German at SSM is in charge of three of the four projects in Ukraine.

“These projects are outside the nuclear installations,” German says. “They are to do with medical radiology, radon protection in housing and managing radiation risks in old uranium mines. We’re now also beginning a project to protect staff in Ukraine’s active uranium mines from radiation.”

The project is much more about knowledge than gadgets. It is important to establish a base of competence and systems that Ukraine can build on.

“We’re passing on knowledge, improving their ability and helping them to improve their regulations,” German says. “We then base things on our own competence at SSM and also bring in other expertise, from hospitals, industry and from university.”

Safe x-rays and reducing radon

The same groups are drawn in on the Ukrainian side – mainly the responsible authorities, operators in hospitals and in mines, as well as scientific expertise. Attracting interest has sometimes been a slow process.

“For example, the hospitals were interested early on, but not the health authority,” German says. “But now, a few years later, they’re involved and are demanding quality assurance of the systems at the hospitals. You always have to give the right diagnoses, the right treatment and the right dosages.”

Another problem that concerns the general public and which little is known about so far is radon levels. The SSM discovered a rise in levels and is now training the authorities about risks and measures.

The situation is more serious in and around the country’s uranium mines. Two mines are in operation and two new ones will follow.

“It has been shown that the number of lung cancer cases is unusually high, which suggests greater radon levels, even though the authorities are still denying it,” German says. “We’re now going to help them measure the levels and produce regulatory framework to improve the protection.”

Healthier life in a tough environment

Sweden is the only country that is assisting in these areas, which has been greatly appreciated. Other donors have been more engaged against the spreading of nuclear fuel and for reactor safety.

“We’re noticing that our work is bringing results, even though it sometimes takes time to influence some authorities,” German says.

However, most things remind her of the difficult situation that some of the people she meets at work have.

“We meet many people who are experiencing tough times personally,” she says. “They’ve been living a tough life, and have maybe suffered from illness or are unemployed.”

Sweden is the only country that has cared about protecting civilians from radiation. That is why this development assistance is particularly appreciated. In the long term, this also improves the conditions for a healthier life.

Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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