General Information: Radiological Protection

Radiation Protection - Why?

People have always lived in natural radiation fields. Radiation originates from space and from naturally radioactive substances in the air, in water and in the soil. In addition to these natural sources of radiation people are also exposed to other forms of radiation in today's technological age. This man-made radiation originates, for instance, from the operation of nuclear power plants and the use of X-ray machines and mobile communication facilities.

Radiation can be harmful to humans and to the environment. Therefore, limit values are set to avoid any verifiable damage. The ultimate objective is to keep radiation levels as low as possible.

Radiation Protection Ordinance and X-Ray Ordinance

The Radiation Protection Ordinance (StrlSchV) and the X-Ray Ordinance (RöV) set out limit values and protective measures to keep humans safe from the harmful effects of ionising radiation. Both ordinances have established 1 millisievert (mSv) per calendar year as population limit value. For work-related exposure to radioactivity, X-rays and cosmic radiation, the limit value is now 20 mSv per calendar year. This applies, for example, to employees of nuclear power plants who work with radioactive material, aircrews and staff working with X-ray equipment. Whereas the previous radiation protection legislation only covered man-made radiation, the amended Radiation Protection Ordinance (Strahlenschutzverordnung, StrlSchV) of 2001 also includes raised levels of radiation from natural sources.

Since August 2005 special requirements apply for the use of highly radioactive sources of radiation. These sources must be specifically labelled, and used radiation sources must be returned or properly disposed of. All highly radioactive sources in the whole of Germany are, moreover, listed in a new central register kept at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz, BfS).

Both ordinances were last amended in 2011. The requirements for licensing procedures governing the use of radioactive substances or of ionising radiation on human beings in medical research were, for example, simplified and streamlined. A further objective is the simplification of procedures through increased use of electronic data processing which will contribute to cut administrative costs in industry considerably.

Monitoring of Environmental Radioactivity

After the nuclear accident at Chernobyl the monitoring of levels of radioactivity in the environment was considerably stepped up and extended. The regulations have been incorporated into the new Radiation Protection Act of 27 June 2017. Activity concentrations in the ambient air and in water bodies are continuously measured by a stationary measuring network. In addition to that there is a round-the-clock monitoring of the radiation levels in the Federal Republic through approximately 1800 measuring stations. An additional extensive measuring programme records the activity concentrations in food, animal feeds and drinking water in Germany to make sure that even minute changes in the contamination situation in Germany are registered and can prompt the necessary action.

Radon in Homes

Radon is a natural radioactive noble gas that is found in nearly all soils and rocks. In Germany, it occurs especially in low mountain ranges. Through cracks and joints, it can penetrate into houses. Radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoke. In all of Germany, about five percent of all lung cancers are attributable to radon in houses and apartments. More information can be found on the website of the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. Evidence for measures for the protection of buildings against radon in buildings can also be found there.

Electromagnetic Radiation – Mobile Phones

For mobile phones and base stations of mobile telephone systems there are limit values to prevent any health damage So far no scientific evidence has been found on any health damage occurring below these thresholds. So as to improve the knowledge base on any potential health impacts below the applicable limit values, the Federal Environment Ministry commissioned the Federal Office for Radiation Protection to carry out the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Programme (Deutsches Mobilfunk Forschungsprogramm, DMF). Further information are available at the Website of the Research Programme.

The communications operators have committed themselves to encouraging mobile phone manufacturers to develop low-emission mobile phones. The specific absorption rates (SAR) of all mobile phones can be found at the BfS Website.