Challenges for Radioecology

Research in radioecology and related sciences is justified by various drivers such as policy changes, supporting the implementation of the revised European Basic Safety Standards, scientific advances and knowledge gaps, radiological risk perception by the public, integration of research infrastructures, education and training, lessons learned (for instance from the Fukushima and Chernobyl accidents) and a growing awareness of interconnections between human and ecosystem health. This version of the SRA is formulated by considering several aspects related to these drivers.

Furthermore, it explores how social and human sciences, including ethical developments and communication issues, could contribute to the consolidation of European radiation protection culture, bringing together human perceptions and behaviour along with science and technology.

The strategy underlying the SRA development and its implementation within a roadmap are driven by the need for improvement in mechanistic understanding across radioecology and the requirement to provide fit-for-purpose human and environmental impact/risk assessments which take account of uncertainties. The ultimate purpose of the SRA is to support the protection of man and the environment, in particular for the three exposure situations defined by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (i.e., planned, existing and emergency).

Scientific challenges

The SRA prioritises three important scientific challenges that radioecology needs to address. Each of these scientific challenges includes a vision statement of what should be accomplished over the next 20 years, followed by key research lines required to accomplish the vision. A summary of the three scientific challenges, with their associated research lines, are listed below and represents a strategic vision of what radioecology could achieve in the future through a directed effort and collaboration between organisations as the ALLIANCE seeks to facilitate. It is a vision in which contributors were asked to think creatively and without boundaries as they imagined the results that could shape the future of radioecology and benefit science and society.

Overview of the Challenges and Research Lines addressed in the SRA for Radioecology

Scientific Challenge 1 - To Predict Human and Wildlife Exposure in a Robust Way by Quantifying Key Processes that Influence Radionuclide Transfers and Exposure

1.1 Identify and mathematically represent key processes that make significant contributions to the environmental transfers of radionuclides and resultant exposures of humans and wildlife

1.2 Acquire the data necessary for parameterisation of the key processes controlling the transfer of radionuclides

1.3 Develop process-based transfer and exposure models that incorporate physical, chemical and biological interactions and associated kinetics, and enable predictions to be made spatially and temporally

1.4 Represent radionuclide transfer and exposure at a landscape or large geographic scale with an indication of the associated uncertainty

Scientific Challenge 2 - To Determine Ecological Consequences under Realistic Exposure Conditions

2.1 Mechanistically understand how processes link radiation induced effects in wildlife from molecular to individual levels of biological complexity

2.2 Understand what causes intra-species and inter-species differences in radiosensitivity (i.e. among cell types, tissues, life stages, among contrasted life histories, influence of ecological characteristics including habitats, behaviour, feeding regime...)

2.3 In a broader exposure context, understand the interactions between ionising radiation effects and other co-stressors

2.4 In a broader ecological context, understand the mechanisms underlying multi-generational responses to long-term ecologically relevant exposures (e.g., maternal effects, hereditary effects, adaptive responses, genomic instability, and epigenetic processes).

2.5 Understand how radiation effects combine in a broader ecological context at higher levels of biological organisation (population dynamics, trophic interactions, indirect effects at the community level, and consequences for ecosystem functioning)

Scientific Challenge 3 - To Improve Human and Wildlife Protection by Integrating Radioecology

3.1 Integrate uncertainty and variability from transfer modelling, exposure assessment, and effects analysis into risk characterisation

3.2 Integrate humans and wildlife protection frameworks

3.3 Integrate the risk assessment frameworks for ionising radiation and chemicals

3.4 Provide a multi-criteria perspective including decision support systems for an optimised decision-making

3.5 Towards better interaction and integration of radioecology with other disciplines, including social sciences and humanities (SSH)

Education and Training

Implementation of the SRA and the future of radioecology will depend on well-trained scientists and professionals, utilising state-of-the-art technology, with research skills relevant to government agencies, industry, research and higher education organisations and other relevant stakeholders. It is critical for a vibrant science to maintain and further develop its researcher base and continually attract and recruit bright, young talents into the discipline. In times of declining opportunities for hands-on education with radioecology in academia, international collaboration and innovative (virtual or remote) teaching concepts will be essential to keep up attractive curricula. Thus, the updated version of the SRA also includes a section on education and training challenges in radioecology with an associated vision and key action lines to maintain and develop a skilled workforce in Europe and worldwide.

More infomation regarding training and education 

Infrastructures

Adequate research infrastructures and capabilities (facilities, equipment, methods, databases and models) are a necessary resource for state-of-the-art radioecological research. Ideas about how to study and evaluate the behaviour and impacts of radiation and radionuclides on the biosphere are changing. Consequently, the required infrastructure and capabilities are also changing. Therefore, the updated version of the SRA specifically addresses the needs to maintain and acquire the infrastructures and capabilities to accomplish the scientific challenges, as well as to support education and training.

Infrastructure related links