Low-Dose Radiation Research Bill Passed by House

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Publication date: 
19 November 2014

The House of Representatives has passed by voice vote a bill calling for a National Academies’ study on low-dose radiation and for a research plan by the Department of Energy responding to this study.

On Monday, the House approved H.R. 5544, the Low-Dose Radiation Research Act of 2014, using a legislative mechanism reserved for the passage of noncontroversial bills.  The bill was introduced by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA), the chairman of the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.  Thirteen representatives from both parties cosponsored the bill.

The bill calls for the director of DOE’s Office of Science to “carry out a research program on low dose radiation.  The purpose of the program is to enhance the scientific understanding of and reduce uncertainties associated with the effects of exposure to low dose radiation in order to inform improved risk management.” 

There are two major components of this four-page bill.  The first calls for the National Academies “to conduct a study assessing the current status and development of a long-term strategy for low dose radiation research.”  The study is to “(1) identify current scientific challenges for understanding the long-term effects of ionizing radiation;  (2) assess the status of current low dose radiation research in the United States and internationally;  (3) formulate overall scientific goals for the future of  low-dose radiation research in the United States;  (4) recommend a long-term strategic and prioritized research agenda to address scientific research goals for overcoming the identified scientific challenges in coordination with other research efforts; (5) define the essential components of a research program that would address this research agenda within the universities and the National Laboratories; and (6) assess the cost-benefit effectiveness of such a program.”

The second component requires the Secretary of Energy to submit to Congress “a 5-year research plan that responds to the study's findings and recommendations and identifies and prioritizes research needs.”

The bill defines low dose radiation as “less than 100 millisieverts.”  The bill prohibits DOE from conducting biomedical research. 

The Office of Science supports research on low dose radiation in its Biological Systems Science Division, Biological and Environmental Research.

In brief remarks on the floor, Broun said “Humans are exposed on a daily basis to much natural background radiation, and some get additional low-dose exposure from medical procedures or fromindustrial radiation sources; yet sufficient data is not available for experts to definitively conclude whether there are health risks associated with low dose radiation.  This lack of understanding prevents regulatory agencies from setting more precise radiation dose limits, as well as it impairs authorities’ decision making capabilities to address potential radiological events and advise patients for medically-based radiation exposures, all of which pose an unnecessary burden on society.”

Describing the bill, Broun explained: “This legislation seeks to address the limited understanding of potential health risks associated with low-dose radiation by leveraging the Nation’s current expertise in low-dose radiation while proposing a long-term strategy to address the current gaps of knowledge in this area.”    He added: “Passage of this legislation will help resolve what we do not know in thefield of low-dose radiation for the betterment of medicine, for emergency response planning, and for industrial safety, not to speak about helping patients and Americans know what this all entails.”

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD) noted that legislation written by House Democrats to reauthorize the America COMPETES Act has “very similar language” to that of H.R.5544 “so we have no objection to this bill and support its passage.”

The bill has been sent to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for its consideration. 

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