Last August researchers from the CHRC participated in the International Congress of Radiation Research (ICRR2019). The ICRR is the premier international scientific conference which brings together scientists from all over the world who study a wide spectrum of topics relevant for all aspects of radiation research including basic mechanisms, translational research, radiotherapy and health effects. This conference is held every four years in different countries and this year it was hosted in Manchester (August 25-29) by the UK Association for Radiation Research.

The conference consisted of a series of parallel lectures and workshops about a wide variety of subjects including studies about the survivors of the atomic bombing of Japan, the nuclear accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima, improved ways of performing radiotherapy, the impact of radiation on wildlife and ecosystems and the risks of exposure faced by astronauts. 

CHRC staff and students participated fully in all aspects of this Congress including an oral presentation summarising the methodological approach for the ‘Cytogenetic and Genetic project’ by Dr Rhona Anderson and, through poster presentations by our students. A full list of speakers and ‘Abstracts’ of the work presented at the Congress can be accessed through www.icrr2019manchester.com. A meeting report which focuses mainly on sessions which encompassed ‘Health effects and Ecology’ and which may be of interest has been published (Williams et al.) ‘Meeting report of the 16th international congress of radiation research and the 12th international symposium on chromosomal aberrations’ by the Society for Radiological Protection in 2020, https://iopscience.iop.org article/10.1088/1361-6498/ab52de.

Key speakers to draw your attention to are Professor John Boice, a distinguished American scientist, who gave a presentation about studies with American nuclear test veterans. This research, which is part of a larger American “million person study”, is concerned with ascertaining the doses that that 115,000 US test veterans have received and whether this can be related to their health outcomes. Professor Boice shared the findings that the majority of US veterans had received low doses (99% had doses < 50 mSv). However, there were notable exceptions such as “the weathermen” (personnel who monitored weather conditions during the Castle Bravo test in 1954) who received doses in the range of 200 mSv – 800 mSv. Professor Boice also discussed the interesting finding that some US naval veterans had suffered health effects due to exposure by asbestos.

Dr Yulia Malova, a Russian psychologist, gave a fascinating talk about her work with “the liquidators”, those who had performed clean-up and containment work in the aftermath of the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Dr Malova’s research found that most of the health effects experienced by the liquidators she studied were not due to radiation exposure but were related to psychological stress. This stress stemmed from harm suffered by loved ones at the time of the accident, the evacuations from their homes, economic uncertainty and exposure worry. This had resulted in obesity, substance abuse, depression, suicide, marriage breakdown for the liquidators and this in turn increased the incidence of heart disease and cancer. 

Overall, we found the ICRR2019 to be a rewarding experience in which we learned much about the research into the health effects of radiation that is being performed all over the world and also gave us the opportunity to share our research with British nuclear test veterans with the international scientific community.