Futurepast Assists the US Department of Energy–Office of Environment, Safety and Health–Plan a Bilateral Workshop on Radiation Health Effects Research

ARLINGTON, Va., August 1995–Scientists from the United States and Russia gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia, July 11-13, for a workshop on radiation health effects on populations in the South Urals. The workshop was the second meeting organized by the two countries under the terms of a bilateral US-Russia agreement on radiation health effects research signed by officials of the two governments in 1994.

Scientists from both countries are cooperating on the study of the effects of radiation releases to workers and surrounding civilian populations from the Mayak plutonium production complex near Chelyabinsk. Significant releases of radioactive material in the 1950s and the 1960s resulted in exposures to humans that were both lower in dosage and extended over a much longer time period than those received by the much more widely studied Japanese atomic bomb survivors.

The Mayak complex served the same essential purpose in Russia’s nuclear weapons complex as the Hanford Atomic Reservation in Washington state did for the US weapons production program.

The primary purpose of the workshop in St. Petersburg was to advance planning for dose reconstruction and epidemiological studies that have been initiated under the cooperative research agreement. A second purpose was to discuss the implementation of research guideline requirements for public participation that were adopted by the project’s Joint Coordinating Committee on Radiation Effects Research.

The US Department of Energy’s Office of Environment, Safety and Health contracted with Futurepast: Inc. to help plan a strategy for incorporating public participation into the cooperative radiation effects research.

According to Futurepast project manager Dr. John Shideler, the strategic planning effort was grounded in the following three principles:

  • Affected publics have a right to express their concerns and to communicate them to research teams and to their sponsors;
  • Affected publics have a right to learn the facts about radiation exposures and related issues that could impact their lives and their communities; and
  • Research teams and their sponsors have an obligation to inform affected publics and to consider their inputs in making decisions about research design, scope, and duration.

An essential goal of public participation in the project, Dr. Shideler noted, was to earn trust in the research process and credibility for the research results, not only among non-participating members of the scientific community, but also among interested and affected parties.

A plenary session of the workshop was devoted to an exchange of presentations about public participation in the two countries. Dr. Shideler made a presentation to the assembled scientists on behalf of the United States that was paired with a presentation from the Russian academic community.

On the final day of the workshop recommendations arising from the plenary session were discussed by the assembled scientists, and forwarded to the executive committee. As a result the executive committee agreed to create a bilateral working group on public participation, and to evaluate the effectiveness of public participation in the bilateral research projects.

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