The International Atomic Energy Agency: Threat of Radiation

Maggie Nick
January 13, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Flags of the International Atomic Energy Agency. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an independent organization within the United Nations that serves to promote and facilitate nuclear cooperation. Today, 168 countries are members of this organization, as seen in the IAEA flags. (See Fig. 1.) Many states have obtained access to weapons of mass destruction. It is essential to have an organization that shall seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health, and prosperity throughout the world. [1] The IAEA does this by monitoring nuclear science and technology, developing nuclear safety standards, and protecting human health against radiation. This report will focus on the different aspects of radiation, specifically it will examine the effects of radiation on the survivors of Japan and the safety measure taken by the IAEA to alleviate the current situation.

Radiation Effects

Radiation is defined as the emission of energy as electromagnetic waves, especially high-energy particles that cause ionization. Before examining the effects of radiation, it is essential to acknowledge that the dangers of radiation exposure are situational. For example, it may be beneficial for someone who has cancer to receive radiation treatment, but detrimental to a person who is healthy. For the purpose of this paper, I will examine the negative effects of radiation exposure. Exposure to radiation can produce both short-term effects, such a stomach nausea or sickness, or long term effects, such as death. Norwegian professor of experimental physics, Harald Trefall, focused his work on radiation exposure and claimed agents can cause premature deaths, no more and no less. Furthermore, he proposed that effects of radiation exposure should be calculated or evaluated by average reduced life-span. [2] The IAEA has an interest in examining and monitoring radiation exposure because of the extreme effects it can have on society, specifically the survivors in Japan.

Correlation Between Radiation and Cancer Incidence in Japan

Beginning in 1950, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation investigated the long-term health effects of radiation on the survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. With a sample of approximately 120,000 survivors, scientists conducted a longitudinal study in order to examine the correlation between radiation exposure and health risks. Several essential conclusions were made. Primarily, the rate of developing cancer was linearly correlated with radiation dose, as those under the age of 10 at the time of exposure experienced 58% more deaths than those older. [3] Additionally, cancer mortality of stomach, lung, liver, colon, breast, gallbladder, esophagus, bladder and ovary cancer increased significantly amongst those at the major sites of radiation exposure. [3] The ability to conduct longitudinal studies across several decades not only allows experts to understand the extent to which the radiation exposure affected the survivors of the bomb, but also what radiation safety measures can be taken to increase health worldwide.

Safety Measures Improved

In order to minimize any risk from exposure, the International Atomic Energy Agency revised and amended their Basic Safety Standards for Radiation Protection to include regulation on: [4]

  1. Disposal and release of nuclear waste

  2. Packaging and transportation of fissile materials

  3. Inspections of radiation facilities

With these amendments, the IAEA has successfully developed and enhanced radiation safety standards. Considering how dangerous and lethal exposure can be, IAEA intervention is not only beneficial, but it is necessary to improving the overall health of humans, animals, and the environment.

© Maggie Nick. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] "Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Am. J. Int. Law 51, 466 (1957).

[2] C. L. Comar, "Radiation Effects," Science 183, 258 (1974).

[3] K. Ozasa et al., "Studies of the Mortality of Atomic Bomb Survivors, Report 14, 1950-2003: An Overview of Cancer and Noncancer Diseases," Radiat. Res 177, 229 (2012).

[4] "International Atomic Energy Agency," Int. Organ. 19, 1043 (1965).