International Centre for Low Dose Radiation Research

The Institute for Research on Environment and Economy has embarked on a new multidisciplinary research program on the biological effects of low dose ionizing radiation. This multi-year research program is funded by several national and international organizations. A brief account of the research program on the low dose effects is given below:

List of Principle Investigators:

Philippe Duport,
Director, Institute for Research on Environment and Economy
5 Calixa-Lavallée,
Ottawa, ON.
K1N 6N5
Tel.:(613) 562-5800, ex. 1270
Fax: (613) 562-5873
Elagu Elaguppillai,
Associate Director, Institute for Research on Environment and Economy
5 Calixa-Lavallée,
Ottawa, ON.
K1N 6N5
Tel.:(613) 562-5800, ex. 1041
Fax: (613) 562-5873


A Comprehensive Investigation of the Biological Effects of Low Dose of Ionizing Radiation

Background Information

The use of nuclear technology is usually associated with radiation exposure of persons and the environment. The magnitude of the exposure (dose) depends on the circumstances under which the exposure occurs. High doses and high dose-rates of radiation (large doses delivered in a very short time) are known to produce adverse health effects, such as cancer and mental retardation, on exposed persons. On the other hand, it is not clear whether small doses (in the neighbourhood of current regulatory dose limits, about a few millisievert per year) produce similar adverse effects.

Some believe that small doses are harmful, and that harmful effects are directly proportional to the total dose, implying a harm even if the dose is minutely small. This concept is also known as linear non-threshold dose response hypothesis (LNTH).

Others argue that small doses are not harmful because of the existence of thresholds in the induction of adverse health effects, below which no effects are either seen or expected. This concept is also known as linear threshold hypothesis (LTH)

Are routine or minor accidental releases of radionuclides by nuclear power reactors dangerous for local populations? Will extremely slow releases (if any) of radionuclides from disposal sites be harmful to populations centuries or millenaries hence? Is the use of radio pharmaceuticals in hospitals dangerous for the patients, the medical staff, the municipal worker who handles hospital wastes? If there is no risk, or a lesser risk than predicted by the LNTH, what is the cost-effectiveness of the resources spent in protection ? If the fear of small level of radiation is real, is the danger itself real? Are the current enormous cost of protection justifiable?

The scientific literature is full of contradictory information on the effects of low doses of radiation. It is not surprising that a major segment of our population is confused and scared of ionizing radiation. The radiation phobia has caused many to shun mammograms and other life-saving medical procedures, and to stifle other industrial applications, such as food irradiation. The fear of radiation has also led to regulatory requirements which are costly to both the government and the industry and, finally, to the whole population.

Under current financial constraints, it is imperative to direct resources where they are most needed, and to consolidate the research carried out in the field of low dose effects with a view to determining, as precisely as possible, the magnitude of radiation risks at these low dose levels. This new information is necessary to make the most effective use of the available resources, to demonstrate that man and his environment are adequately protected, and to better inform the public about radiation risks at low or very low doses.

In this research project, it is proposed to collect all relevant data on the effects of low doses of ionizing radiation in humans, animals, and in cell and tissue cultures, and to analyse them using new analytical techniques, with a view to quantifying the biological effects of low doses of ionizing radiation.


To make a complete inventory of information on the effects of low doses of ionizing radiation, to assemble all accessible information in data bases, and to analyse the data, using state-of-the-art methods and models, with a view to determining, as precisely as possible, the relationship between low doses and health effects. Whenever it is known, the role of factors such as dose rate or combined exposures to radiation and other agents in the induction of detrimental or beneficial biological effects will also be taken into account in the analysis. New tools for statistical analysis need to be developed to deal with situations where the risk is small and uncertainties inherent to presently available tools and data sets are very large. Such new tools will be developed for rigorous analysis of the existing data.


The range of information concerning the effects of low doses of ionizing radiation that will be identified, assembled, and analysed in this project includes epidemiological studies of human populations exposed to radiation, laboratory experiments on animals exposed to low doses of ionizing radiation and on cell and tissue cultures as well as studies of the effects of combined exposures to ionizing radiation and other potential confounders and co-carcinogens.

Data from both the open literature and from unpublished archives from different laboratories in several countries, including France, Japan, Germany, Canada and USA, will be brought together and analysed.

Interdisciplinary Participation

Several disciplines will participate in the project. Such disciplines include, but are not limited to, Mathematics and Statistics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Genetics and Epidemiology.


The project is jointly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Electricité de France, Institut de Sûreté et de Protection Nucléaire (ISPN), France, Matières Nucléaires (Cogema), France, Central Research Institute of the Electric Power Industry (CRIEPI), Japan, and in Canada by Cameco Corporation, Candu Owners Group (COG), the Canadian Nuclear Society, and MDS Nordion.

The International Centre for Low Dose Radiation Research has been approved by the University of Ottawa on December 15, 1997.

The Centre held on June 8, 1998, at the University of Ottawa, it's first and highly successful International Symposium which was attended by about 140 participants.