Protecting people from the harmful effects of radiation has always been a major priority for organisations that handle nuclear materials and procedures – even more so following major events like the Chernobyl disaster and the recent earthquake in Japan, which caused an emergency situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Essentially, radiation protection practitioners are expert consultants that work to make sure that the environment and people are kept safe from the damaging effects of radiation.
Radiation protection practitioners are employed by organisations to measure and monitor levels of radiation (ionised and non-ionised) and provide expert advice on complying with statutory and regulatory requirements relating to radiation safety.
These guys also offer guidance on the minimisation of risk, the emergency procedures required in the event of nuclear ‘incidents’, and the design of reactors, nuclear facilities and devices which use radiation, such as X-rays.
If you enter this profession, you could be developing and using your expert knowledge in different kinds of radiation. For instance, you could focus your consultancy services on ionised radiation, i.e. processes and activities involving X-rays, hazardous nuclear material and radioactive waste.
Alternatively, you could specialise in providing advice about the risks of non-ionised radiation, including radiation emitted by mobile communication devices, lasers and detection equipment such as radars.
Radiation protection practitioners are employed in the energy, medical, manufacturing, defence and research and development sectors. Furthermore, they might work for governmental organisations, regulatory authorities and higher education institutions.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be using state-of-the-art equipment to monitor, measure and record radiation levels, making environmental impact assessments, recording your findings, writing reports and providing expert guidance to your clients on safety procedures and protocols for handling radioactive materials.
You’ll also play an integral role in helping organisations to develop and improve their policies and guidelines on the use of radiation and nuclear materials. Furthermore, you might be working directly with employees of the organisation that use radioactive materials in order to improve their awareness of the issues surrounding radiation.
You may also be required to offer advice to engineers on the construction of buildings and the design and development of radioactive devices and solutions.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for radiation protection practitioners in the early stages of their careers range between £17,000 and £25,000, while professionals with more experience may earn between £25,000 and £35,000 per annum.
Senior personnel with more than five years’ experience can earn up to £65,000 a year.
Radiation protection practitioners follow a regular nine-to-five, five-day week schedule. However, you may occasionally be required to do a certain amount of evening and weekend work, especially in the case of emergencies.
In order to break into this line of work, you’ll firstly need strong A-level grades in maths and science subjects. You’ll also need a relevant degree (2:1 minimum) in a subject such as physics, chemistry, nuclear engineering, environmental sciences or radiography (especially for those thinking about specialising in the healthcare sector).
The highly technical nature of this work means that obtaining a degree is essential for entry into this profession. Some employers may even prefer candidates with relevant postgraduate qualifications (MSc or PhD).
Candidates with degrees in other, unrelated disciplines should consider taking up a relevant postgraduate programme with professional bodies, such as the Society for Radiological Protection (SRP).
Training & progression
‘On-the-job’ training and in-house and external training courses form the bulk of the training and development programmes provided by most employers.
Professional credentials and accreditations are administered by the Society for Radiological Protection, which require candidates to maintain a comprehensive portfolio of the work and training that they have completed and obtain a relevant professional qualification before they can become accredited radiation protection advisers (RPA).
With increased levels of experience, you may choose to start working as a freelance consultant or set up your own consultancy service. Alternatively, you could choose to stay with the same organisation and take on more managerial responsibilities, focusing on business development, strategy, procurement and budget control.