ICRP Publication 150

Cancer Risk from Exposure to Plutonium and Uranium

Recommended citation
ICRP, 2021. Cancer risk from exposure to plutonium and uranium. ICRP Publication 150. Ann. ICRP 50(4).

Authors on behalf of ICRP
M. Tirmarche, I. Apostoaei, E. Blanchardon, E.D. Ellis, E. Gilbert, J.D. Harrison, D. Laurier, J.W. Marsh, M. Sokolnikov, R. Wakeford, S. Zhivin

Abstract - The objective of this publication is to provide a detailed review of results from recent epidemiological studies on the risk of cancer from exposure to plutonium and uranium, and how these results relate to the assumptions currently used for protection against alpha radiation. For plutonium, the two main studies are of the cohorts of workers employed at the nuclear installations at Mayak in the Russian Federation and at Sellafield in the UK. The analysis of the Mayak worker cohort provides an estimate of the slope of the doseresponse curve for the risk of lung cancer, while at lower levels of plutonium exposure, the Sellafield worker cohort provides results that, within relatively large confidence intervals, are consistent with those for the Mayak worker cohort. Results from the Mayak worker cohort also show an association between plutonium exposure and the risk of liver and bone cancers, but not the risk of leukaemia. Lifetime excess risk of lung cancer mortality has been calculated for scenarios of acute and chronic inhalation of plutonium nitrate and plutonium oxide, similar to work performed previously for radon and its decay products in ICRP Publication 115. Estimated lifetime excess risk of lung cancer mortality per unit absorbed dose is close to that derived from miner studies for exposure to radon and its progeny, and is compatible with the assumption of a radiation weighting factor of 20 for alpha particles. Epidemiological studies of the risk of cancer associated with uranium exposure have been conducted among cohorts of European and North American workers involved in the nuclear fuel cycle. Current results do not allow the reliable derivation of doserisk models for uranium for any cancer type. Continuation of efforts to improve dose assessment associated with plutonium and uranium exposure is recommended for future research.