Are We Seeing Clearly?

The lens of the eye is one of the more sensitive tissues in the body to radiation, especially related to forming cataracts. The current NRC dose limit for the eye is 15 rem in a year, which is lower than the limits for other single organs. (The unit “rem” is used to measure the amount of radiation you get from a source – 0.1 rem is the average amount each of us gets each year from naturally occurring radiation.)

Now, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) has found that the eye is more sensitive than previously thought. Based on this, the ICRP has recommended a new lower dose limit for the lens of the eye. The new recommendation is two rem a year, averaged over the course of five years, with no single year exceeding five rem. Copies of the ICRP statement are available on the NRC website.

While the best current evidence is that no one in the U.S. has been receiving exposure to the lens of the eye at levels close to our current limits, some people working with radiation are getting exposures at, or slightly above, the new international recommendations.

We at NRC have been talking with licensees and other stakeholders for the past two years about possible changes to our radiation protection regulations as part of a process to ask for early input related to radiation protection rulemaking. These new international recommendations for limits to the lens of the eye are yet another issue that we need to consider.

To continue talking with stakeholders, we published a notice soliciting stakeholder input in the Federal Register on August 31, 2011. The notice gives background on the issue, and asks questions about the different ways in which a change might be written, and the kinds of impacts that might occur if a change was made. The Federal Register notice can also be accessed from the the NRC website at:

We welcome comments from all of those interested in the issue. Comments are due by October 31, 2011. The notice describes different ways in which comments can be sent to us.

Based on the comments received, we will be preparing a paper for Commission consideration that will include options for how the agency may proceed. So, please let us know – what should we do to see clearly?

Donald A. Cool, Ph.D.
Senior Advisor, Radiation Safety and International Liaison

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

6 thoughts on “Are We Seeing Clearly?”

  1. So much radio active and radiation around us that can make this eyes got tired and must be rest. But, sometimes, we don’t care about it and make this eyes to work. That’s bad. We have to keep this eyes to be healthful before somethings bad happen…

  2. “The new regulation is in place but how are you going to ensure that the people working in radiation follow the rule?”

    The more interesting question is: What exactly will happen to peoples eyes over a period of time working in radiation and getting a much larger dose then 15 rem in a year? Just curious…

  3. The new regulation is in place but how are you going to ensure that the people working in radiation follow the rule?

  4. Ok, I know that the human eye lens adjusts its focal length depending on the object distance to obtain a sharp image on the retina because the image distance has to remain constant. What I am not able to understand is how do the ciliary muscles and the suspensory ligaments contract in order change the shape of the lens. What exactly is the mechanism by which muscles and the ligaments work?

  5. ICRP dose threshold limit lower -OK. How quickly does safety equipment change to reflect new OSHA safety equipment compliance with new dose limits.

  6. The new dose limit recommendation appears to be much lower than the before. It will be interesting to see if those people working with radiation are able to keep their exposure below the new dose limit. I think it is excellent that this new recommendation is being taking seriously and steps being made to keep our eyes safe.

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