Since 1955 Urals Research Center for Radiation Medicine (URCRM) has been providing health services for the population affected by low dose rate radiation exposure due to radiation accidents at the Mayak Production Association (Mayak PA) (discharges of radioactive wastes into the Techa River, explosion of the radioactive waste storage and formation of the East Urals Radioactive Trace (EURT), etc.) and has been conducting research to provide radiation safety for the population.

The activities pursued by the URCRM made it possible to greatly minimize the consequences of radioactive contamination of the territory of the Urals region with long-lived radionuclides. Current measures on safety assurance of exposed population are aimed at improvement of population health status, and reduction of exposure dose to population. Earlier, the personnel of the URCRM developed and introduced recommendation guidelines on farming and processing of the agricultural products, territory and population rehabilitation, a return of contaminated territories into the practical use. All the documents regulating the population safety in different periods after the accident, including provisional maximum permissible levels of contamination of products, forage, agricultural raw materials and domestic appliances, have been formulated.

Scheme of the East Urals Radioactive Trace
Scheme of the East Urals Radioactive Trace

Through the example of EURT, scientific research results of the URCRM demonstrated, for the first time ever, the possibility to use the territory, non-uniformly contaminated with long-lived radionuclide, in the national economy, and to implement agrochemical measures to decrease radionuclide contents in foodstuffs and the entry of radionuclides into the food-chains. Out of 106,000 ha of lands excluded from the economic use after the accident in 1957 87,000 ha were returned to the agriculture and forestry.

The recommendations and guidelines for radiation safety assurance in carrying out the works on radioactively contaminated territories, developed by the personnel of the URCRM, and also the methods for measurements of radionuclide contents in various environmental media and food stuffs are used until now in the Urals region, and also in the areas contaminated due to Chernobyl radiation accident.

Exposure doses to residents of the Techa riverside villages were reconstructed on the basis of long-term dosimetric studies of environmental media (more than 31,000 measurements have been performed) and the population (measurements have been performed for more than 58,000 people). Dosimetry products of the URCRM Biophysics Lab were applied after the law “On social protection of citizens affected by radiation exposure due to Mayak PA radiation accident in 1957 and discharges of radioactive wastes into the Techa River” became valid.

For the first time large-scale experiments studying biological effects of 90Sr were conducted. The results of the animal experiments contributed to adequate prognosis in relation to potential late health effects of the chronic exposure to uranium fission products, and to timely organization of the work of a hematological unit established within the URCRM Clinical Department.

Many years have passed since the radiation accident, and the major activity areas of URCRM nowadays are medical follow-up of exposed persons and their offspring, treatment of hematological patients and persons who were diagnosed with chronic radiation syndrome (at the present time the follow-up is performed for about 500 patients), and others. URCRM medical specialists undertake field (up to 3,000 persons a year), outpatient (up to 3,000 persons a year) and inpatient (up to 900 patients a year) medical examinations of exposed population. Medical Genetics laboratory has been established to conduct examinations and follow-up of the exposed population offspring. URCRM Clinical Departmentwhich has for a long period of time remained the only medical establishment specializing in radiation medicine in the Urals region, provides consultative assistance to local health-care institutions.

Specialists of the URCRM worked out a method of the long-term follow-up of the exposed persons following the analysis of health and social status of people affected by chronic radiation exposure, including those who were diagnosed with CRS. The method is based on the analysis of the critical organs and systems in persons affected by radiation exposure. At the core of the follow-up algorithm is the use of the high-tech methods of screening and monitoring the health status of exposed persons (hardware diagnostic tools, registry of exposed persons, computerized database). The application of this method allows the specialists to perform timely and efficient diagnostics and treatment of cancer and non-cancer diseases at the early stages, thus improving the prognosis and quality of life of the patient.

The scientific achievements of the URCRM researchers are universally acknowledged. The assessment of the population risk of the late effects (cancer and genetic disorders) of the chronic radiation exposure was performed on the basis of the medical-dosimetric database, designed and maintained in the URCRM. In this respect, it should be emphasized that the Techa River cohort as well as the cohort of the atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the priority in the world. One of the prospective lines of research is the elaboration of approaches for individualization of risk of the long-term effects based on the analysis of the health status of exposed people and their offspring, bioindication and biodosimetry of chronic radiation exposure.

Socio-psychological research and provision of psychological, psychotherapeutic and psychiatric assistance to the population residing on the contaminated territories of the Urals region are new are new areas of the URCRM’s activity. Peculiar perception of radiation hazard, increased level of anxiety of the population contribute to the development and maintenance of chronic stress situation in the region. Under these circumstances provision of psychological and counseling services, trainings, workshops by the specialists of our Center represents a comprehensive approach to improving the social–psychological status of the residents of contaminated territories, formation of adaptive modes of stress coping and improving the quality of life of the population.

Recently, the URCRM specialists have been actively `studying the impact of man-made radiation and non-radiation factors on biological systems. These investigations allow for assessment of ecological risk of the radioactive contamination of the ecosystems, which will ultimately lead to much more accurate risk estimates of the impact of radiation on the health of man.

Currently, the URCRM personnel are elaborating scientific grounds for partial return into agricultural use of radioactively contaminated territories, which during the last 50 years have been excluded from usage over the past 50 years.

URCRM houses the Radiation Biology and Bioecology sub-faculty of the Chelyabinsk State University, and also Interdepartmental Expert Council on establishing causal relationships between disease, disability, death of a person, and radiation exposure.