Everest for Science

It is a well known scientific fact that cosmic radiation dose rates increase with increasing altitude above sea level. This is a direct result of the reduction in the amount of atmospheric shielding present at higher altitudes.

Radiation protection control measures are in place for airline crews and astronauts and these work groups have their occupational radiation doses estimated or assessed by their employers.

Every year high altitude mountain guides from the United Kingdom, and other countries, spend significant amounts of time at altitude. In some cases, these individuals can spend significantly more time at altitude than airline crews.

Mountain guides spend prolonged periods of time at altitude when travelling to/from their work places in aircraft and during the time that they spend on mountains. They travel as passengers on aircraft and receive cosmic radiation doses. When on the mountains they also receive cosmic radiation doses but because they are on the “ground” these doses are not currently classified as “occupational exposures” and are not currently assessed. The cosmic radiation doses received by aircrew are assessed even though some aircrew fly at altitudes lower than those being operated in by mountain guides.

At the 2012 International Radiation Protection Association (IRPA13) conference in Glasgow, a conference paper was published illustrating the typical cosmic radiation doses that might be received by a United Kingdom High Altitude Mountain Guide whilst leading clients on each of the seven summits. This paper is hypothetical but provides a reasonable estimate of the typical doses received for a typical itinerary on each of the seven summits.

The paper concludes that mountain guides are occupationally exposed to radiation and that the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) should consider including mountain guides as a group of workers whom further consideration of occupational doses may need to be required.

Bob Kerr’s conference paper and the associated illustrative conference poster on this subject can be found on the RP Alba Ltd website.

Through the hypothetical study performed for the IRPA12 conference it has been shown that a UK based high altitude mountain guide could receive greater than 1 millisievert (mSv) of radiation dose by taking a client to the top of Everest. This is a “significant dose” under the UK’s Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.

Having performed this hypothetical assessment of dose, as with all good studies, it is imperative that measurements are taken to substantiate the assessment.

Bob Kerr is preparing the foundations for making a series of radiation dose and dose rate measurements on Everest.

It is subsequently planned to prepare a scientific paper reporting the findings of this study for the Fourth European IRPA Congress “Radiation Protection Culture – a global challenge” being held in Geneva on 23-27 June 2014.

If you are interested in this study or wish to contribute knowledge, experience, funding or technology then please email me at bob@bob-kerr.com to discuss further.

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