United Nations Scientiﬁc Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR)
Providing a Scientiﬁc Basis for Protection Against Radiation
History and mandate
On 3 December 1955 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved resolution 913(X), which established the United Nations Scientiﬁc Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR). UNSCEAR's mandate is to assess and report levels and effects of exposure to ionizing radiation. Governments and organizations throughout the world rely on the Committee's estimates as the scientiﬁc basis for evaluating radiation risk and for establishing protective measures. Over the decades that followed, UNSCEAR became the ofﬁcial international authority on the levels and effects of ionizing radiation, used for peaceful as well as military purposes and derived from natural as well as man-made sources.
The Committee has regularly evaluated the evidence for radiation-induced health effects from studies of the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan in 1945 and other exposed groups. It has also reviewed advances in scientiﬁc understanding of the mechanisms by which radiation-induced health effects can occur. These assessments have provided the scientiﬁc foundation used in formulating international protection standards.
The Chernobyl accident in 1986 was a tragic event for its victims and there has been major hardship for those most affected. From early on, UNSCEAR was involved in the assessment of radiation exposures and health effects. In 1988 it published a ﬁrst account of acute radiation effects in emergency workers and of the global exposures. A more detailed assessment of radiation levels and effects from the accident was published in 2000. More recently the Committee has participated in the Chernobyl Forum, whose important mission covered many aspects of the accident, including the review of radiation health effects. In 2008, the Committee approved for publication an updated assessment of the health and environmental effects of the accident.
In the 1990s, attention had been focused on the radiological legacy of the cold war, with assessments of the radioactive residues from weapons production and testing, and hereditary effects of radiation. The last major reports were approved by the Committee in 2006 and 2008. The 2006 report updated knowledge on the epidemiology of radiation-induced disease (cancer and non-cancer); on so-called non-targeted effects, radiation effects on the immune system, and the effects of radon exposure. The 2008 report updated the Committee's assessments of public, worker and patient exposures to radiation; radiation exposures during accidents; the health effects of the Chernobyl accident; and radiation effects on other species.
Much has changed-with the end of the cold war and the information technology revolution, the role of the Committee as the principal focal point for international information exchange in this important and highly specialized topic has diminished. However, with the ﬂood of new information now available (particularly in the ﬁelds of genetics and molecular biology), comes the vital need to review and synthesize it, and to build a scientiﬁc consensus for use by policy makers, decision makers and other stakeholders. With important decisions concerning new medical uses of radiation, environmental restoration, waste disposal and the nuclear power option, the role of the Committee in providing authoritative scientiﬁc information continues to be central and will be crucial in the future.
Twenty-one countries provide the present membership of the Committee, working on behalf of the United Nations: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Sudan, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States.
States Observers presently include: Belarus, Finland, Pakistan, the Republic of Korea, Spain and Ukraine.
More than 50 national organizations and several international organizations provide considerable contributions in kind.
The small secretariat in Vienna, which is functionally linked to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), organizes and services the annual sessions and manages the preparation of documents for the Scientiﬁc Committee's scrutiny.
For information contact:
Secretary of UNSCEAR
Vienna International Centre
PO Box 500, 1400 Vienna, Austria
Telephone: (+43-1) 26060-4330
Fax: (+43-1) 26060-5902
For more detailed information about the Committee and its work, including copies of all its publications,
visit the website: www.unscear.org