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J Environ Radioact. 2013 Jul;121:12-21. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2012.01.013. Epub 2012 Feb 14.

Are radiosensitivity data derived from natural field conditions consistent with data from controlled exposures? A case study of Chernobyl wildlife chronically exposed to low dose rates.

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Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety, IRSN/DEI/SECRE, Cadarache, Building 159, 13115 Saint Paul lez Durance Cedex, France.


The discrepancy between laboratory or controlled conditions ecotoxicity tests and field data on wildlife chronically exposed to ionising radiation is presented for the first time. We reviewed the available chronic radiotoxicity data acquired in contaminated fields and used a statistical methodology to support the comparison with knowledge on inter-species variation of sensitivity to controlled external γ irradiation. We focus on the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and effects data on terrestrial wildlife reported in the literature corresponding to chronic dose rate exposure situations (from background ~100 nGy/h up to ~10 mGy/h). When needed, we reconstructed the dose rate to organisms and obtained consistent unbiased data sets necessary to establish the dose rate-effect relationship for a number of different species and endpoints. Then, we compared the range of variation of radiosensitivity of species from the Chernobyl-Exclusion Zone with the statistical distribution established for terrestrial species chronically exposed to purely gamma external irradiation (or chronic Species radioSensitivity Distribution - SSD). We found that the best estimate of the median value (HDR50) of the distribution established for field conditions at Chernobyl (about 100 μGy/h) was eight times lower than the one from controlled experiments (about 850 μGy/h), suggesting that organisms in their natural environmental were more sensitive to radiation. This first comparison highlights the lack of mechanistic understanding and the potential confusion coming from sampling strategies in the field. To confirm the apparent higher sensitive of wildlife in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, we call for more a robust strategy in field, with adequate design to deal with confounding factors.

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