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3. Historical Overview of Radiation Protection Guidelines: 1961 - 1980

In the United States, there are no comprehensive, easy-to-interpret radiation protection guidelines available to the general public with practical usefulness in a time of emergency. What guidelines exist can be divided into five categories: early guidelines (antediluvian: before the flood of radioactive contamination of the biosphere); revised guidelines; post-Chernobyl "levels of concern;" official protection action guidelines for use by authorized persons for use during a domestic accident and the most recent federal publications discussed in the previous section.

The first protective action guidelines (PAG) issued by the Federal Radiation Council in 1960-61 are the early (antediluvian) guidelines. Present from before the birth of the commercial nuclear industry, these conservative guidelines described practical stages of safety precautions to be taken in the event of increasing radioactive contamination of the environment. In 1982, a second revised and much more liberal set of radiation protection action guidelines (PAG) were issued as a component of the development of radiological emergency response plans to be implemented on a state by state basis by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the event of a domestic nuclear "incident." The focus of these guidelines is on emergency actions to be taken in times of major releases of nuclear contaminants to prevent the acute effects of radiation poisoning. Earlier guidelines were concerned with contamination of the environment beginning with a "level of concern" which was much lower than those now described as emergency actions in the more recent revised FDA/FEMA protective action guidelines (PAGs). A third set of guidelines specifically titled "levels of concern" was issued by the FDA just after Chernobyl in anticipation of the spread of radioactive contamination from this accident. The fourth set of guidelines is contained within the Radiological Emergency Response Plans sponsored by FEMA, the circulation of which is restricted to authorized persons. These four categories of protection action guidelines will be discussed as a component of the annotated citations below.

The fourth part of this section, following the summary of U.S. protection action guidelines, lists protection action guidelines in effect in Europe after the Chernobyl accident.
A. Early Guidelines (Antediluvian): 1961

The radiation protection guidelines issued by the Federal Radiation Council and contained in the following table are among the earliest recommendations in radiation protection literature. They represent the first category of protection action guidelines and the first PAGs issued in this country. Weapons-testing fallout pulses of 131I exceeded range III of these guidelines shortly after their publication (See RADNET Section 9: Dietary Intake, Baretta 1976); in the post-Chernobyl era, this guideline for radioiodine now seems quaint, a wistful remnant of a bygone era. Many important radionuclides are not listed in this guideline.
Table 1: Radiation Protection Guides (RPG) for transient rates of intake of (some) radionuclides(1)
Target Organ
Dose Equivalent
for Upper Limit
of Range II
Intake Rate (pCi/day)(a)
Range I Range II Range III
Iodine-131 Thyroid 0.5 0 - 10 10 - 100 100 - 1,000
Strontium-90 Bone 0.5 0 - 20 20 - 200 200 - 2,000
Strontium-89 Bone 0.5 0 - 200 200 - 2,000 2,000 - 20,000
Cesium-137 Whole Body 0.17 0 - 1,450 1,450 - 14,500 14,500 - 145,000
Barium-140(b) Bone 0.5 0 - 1.4x104 1.4x104 - 1.4x105 1.4x105 - 1.4x106
Tritium(b) Whole Body 0.17 0 - 2x105 2x105 - 2x106 2x106 - 2x107
Ruthenium-106(b) Lower, Large Ints. 0.5 0 - 725 725 - 7,250 7,250 - 72,500

(a) Range I requires only periodic surveillance; Range II, quantitative surveillance and routine control; Range III, evaluation and additional controls (FRC 61). (b) For specific radionuclides not considered by the FRC, the Ranges were derived using the radionuclide concentrations in water tabulated by the National Committee on Radiation Protection (NBS 63) for occupational exposure x 1/30 as applied to the general population.

(1) Transcribed from R.E. Sampson et al., Survey of Radionuclides in Food, 1961-77, p. 531. See Federal Radiation Protection Standards (1960-1961) Reports 1 and 2.

B. Revised PAG Guidelines: 1982 and 1992 

U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1982). Accidental radioactive contamination of human food and animal feed; recommendations for state and local agencies. Docket No. 76N-0050. Federal Register. 47(205). pg. 47073-47084.

Emergency Protection Action Guideline (PAG)
131I 134Cs 137Cs
Infant Adult Infant Adult Infant Adult
Initial Deposition
(microcurie/square meter)
1.3 18 20 40 30 50
Forage Concentration
0.5 7 8 17 13 19
Peak Milk Intake
0.15 2 1.5 3 2.4 4
Total Intake
(microcurie/accident, 1-30 days)
0. 9 10 40 70 70 80
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. (1992). Manual of protective action guides and protective actions for nuclear incidents. U.S. EPA, Washington D.C.
Potential Exposure Pathways and Incident Phases Incident Phases Protective Actions
1. External radiation from facility Early Sheltering
Control of access
2. External radiation from plume Early Sheltering
Control of access
3. Inhalation of activity in plume Early Sheltering
Administration of stable iodine
Control of access
4. Contamination of skin and clothes Early Intermediate Sheltering
Decontamination of persons
5. External radiation from ground deposition of activity Early Intermediate Late Sheltering 
Decontamination of land and property
6. Ingestion of contaminated food and water Intermediate Late Food and water controls
7. Inhalation of resuspended activity Intermediate Late Relocation 
Decontamination of land and property
Release Quantities for Postulated Nuclear Reactor Accidents
Principle radionuclides contributing to dose from deposited materials Half-life (days)
Estimated quantity released (Curies)
SST-1* SST-2* SST-3*
Zr-95 6.52E+1 1.4E+6 4.5E+4 1.5E+2
Nb-95 3.50E+1 1.3E+6 4.2E+4 1.4E+2
Ru-103 3.95E+1 6.0E+6 2.4E+5 2.4E+2
Ru-106 3.66E+2 1.5E+6 5.8E+4 5.8E+1
Te-132 3.25 8.3E+7 3.9E+6 2.6E+3
I-131 8.05 3.9E+7 2.6E+5 1.7E+4
Cs-134 7.50E+2 8.7E+6 1.2E+5 1.3E+2
Cs-137 1.10E+4 4.4E+6 5.9E+4 6.5E+1
Ba-140 1.28E+1 1.2E+7 1.7E+5 1.7E+2
La-140 1.67 1.5E+6 5.1E+4 1.7E+2

*SST-1 etc. refer to the five types of nuclear power plant accidents described in Table E-1, of which these are the three most serious.

Moving $1.70
Loss of use of residence $2.96
Maintain and secure vacated property $0.74
Extra living costs $1.28
Lost business and inventories $14.10
Extra travel costs $4.48
Idle government facilities $1.29
Total $26.55

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