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ICRPAEDIA: Cosmic Radiation and Aviation


Radiation is a natural part of our environment.

What is “cosmic” radiation?

  • Cosmic radiation comes from the sun and outer space.

  • Cosmic radiation makes up about 1/6th of our exposure to natural radiation.

  • Everyone, everywhere, is exposed to cosmic radiation.

We are protected from cosmic radiation by Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere. At higher altitudes in an airplane and particularly when closer to the North and South poles, this protection is less. During a commercial flight, cosmic radiation is several times higher than on the ground.

What do experts recommend?

More of us are travelling by air. Aircrafts are constantly improving, which allows longer flights, at higher altitudes, and over the North and South poles.

For most people, experts recommend no special measures. Information should be provided to those interested so they can be properly informed.

People who fly very frequently, such as business people travelling long distances every week may be interested in learning more. For example, it is possible to track your own cosmic radiation dose. It’s easy to do with on-line tools*.

For air crew, like flight attendants and pilots, airlines should educate and inform employee on the dose and effects of cosmic radiation. Airlines should also assess and log these doses, making each employee’s personal dose information available to them. Provisions should be in place to adjust duties for air crew who have declared a pregnancy, if needed.

National authorities and airline companies should raise awareness about cosmic radiation, and offer their support to make informed decisions about cosmic radiation exposure and its relation to flying.

ICRP Publication 132
Radiological Protection from Cosmic Radiation in Aviation

* One on-line tool for assessing cosmic radiation dose from flying is SIEVERT, developed by IRSN. This link is provided for information only.

▶ Further Reading: Quotes from ICRP Publications