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Regulatory Dose Limits

A single high-level radiation exposure (i.e., greater than 100 mSv) delivered to the whole body over a very short period of time may have potential health risks. From follow-up of the atomic bomb survivors, we know acutely delivered, very high radiation doses can increase the occurrence of certain kinds of disease (e.g., cancer) and possibly negative genetic effects. To protect the public and radiation workers (and environment) from the potential effects of chronic low-level exposure (i.e., less than 100 mSv), the current radiation safety practice is to prudently assume similar adverse effects are possible with low-level protracted exposure to radiation. Thus, the risks associated with low-level medical, occupational, and environmental radiation exposure are conservatively calculated to be proportional to those observed with high-level exposure. These calculated risks are compared to other known occupational and environmental hazards, and appropriate safety standards and policies have been established by international and national radiation protection organizations (e.g., International Commission on Radiological Protection and National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements) to control and limit potential harmful radiation effects.

Both public and occupational regulatory dose limits are set by federal (i.e., Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Nuclear Regulatory Commission [NRC], and Department of Energy [DOE]) and state agencies (e.g., Agreement States) to limit cancer risk. Other radiation dose limits are applied to limit other potential biological effects with workers' skin and lens of the eye.

Annual Radiation Dose Limits Agency
Radiation Worker – 50 mSv (NRC, "occupationally" exposed)
General Public – 1 mSv (NRC, member of the public)
General Public – 0.25 mSv (NRC, decommissioning and decontamination all pathways)
General Public – 0.10 mSv (EPA, air pathway)
General Public – 0.04 mSv (EPA, drinking water pathway)
Ask the Experts is posting information using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
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