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General information
Unit system SI derived unit
Unit ofHealth effect of ionizing radiation (Equivalent dose)
Named after Rolf Maximilian Sievert
1 Sv in ...... is equal to ...
    SI base units     m 2 s −2
   Energy absorbed by mass    J kg −1
    CGS units (non-SI)   100 rem

The sievert (symbol: Sv [note 1] ) is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units (SI) and is a measure of the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body. The sievert is of importance in dosimetry and radiation protection, and is named after Rolf Maximilian Sievert, a Swedish medical physicist renowned for work on radiation dose measurement and research into the biological effects of radiation.

SI derived units are units of measurement derived from the seven base units specified by the International System of Units (SI). They are either dimensionless or can be expressed as a product of one or more of the base units, possibly scaled by an appropriate power of exponentiation.

Ionizing radiation Radiation that carries enough light energy to liberate electrons from atoms or molecules

Ionizing radiation is radiation that carries sufficient energy to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, thereby ionizing them. Ionizing radiation is made up of energetic subatomic particles, ions or atoms moving at high speeds, and electromagnetic waves on the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

International System of Units a system of units of measurement for base and derived physical quantities

The International System of Units is the modern form of the metric system, and is the most widely used system of measurement. It comprises a coherent system of units of measurement built on seven base units, which are the second, metre, kilogram, ampere, kelvin, mole, candela, and a set of twenty prefixes to the unit names and unit symbols that may be used when specifying multiples and fractions of the units. The system also specifies names for 22 derived units, such as lumen and watt, for other common physical quantities.


The sievert is used for radiation dose quantities such as equivalent dose and effective dose, which represent the risk of external radiation from sources outside the body, and committed dose which represents the risk of internal irradiation due to inhaled or ingested radioactive substances. The sievert is intended to represent the stochastic health risk, which for radiation dose assessment is defined as the probability of radiation-induced cancer and genetic damage. One sievert carries with it a 5.5% chance of eventually developing cancer based on the linear no-threshold model. [1] [2]

Equivalent dose is a dose quantity H representing the stochastic health effects of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body which represents the probability of radiation-induced cancer and genetic damage. It is derived from the physical quantity absorbed dose, but also takes into account the biological effectiveness of the radiation, which is dependent on the radiation type and energy. In the SI system of units, the unit of measure is the sievert (Sv).

Effective dose is a dose quantity in the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) system of radiological protection.

The committed dose in radiological protection is a measure of the stochastic health risk due to an intake of radioactive material into the human body. Stochastic in this context is defined as the probability of cancer induction and genetic damage, due to low levels of radiation. The SI unit of measure is the sievert.

To enable consideration of stochastic health risk, calculations are performed to convert the physical quantity absorbed dose into equivalent dose and effective dose, the details of which depend on the radiation type and biological context. For applications in radiation protection and dosimetry assessment the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) have published recommendations and data which are used to calculate these. These are under continual review, and changes are advised in the formal "Reports" of those bodies.

Absorbed dose is a dose quantity which is the measure of the energy deposited in matter by ionizing radiation per unit mass. Absorbed dose is used in the calculation of dose uptake in living tissue in both radiation protection, and radiology. It is also used to directly compare the effect of radiation on inanimate matter such as in radiation hardening.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) is an independent, international, non-governmental organization, with the mission to provide recommendations and guidance on radiological protection concerning ionising radiation.

The International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) is a standardization body set up in 1925 by the International Congress of Radiology, originally as the X-Ray Unit Committee until 1950. Its objective "is to develop concepts, definitions and recommendations for the use of quantities and their units for ionizing radiation and its interaction with matter, in particular with respect to the biological effects induced by radiation".

Conventionally, the sievert is not used for high dose rates of radiation that produce deterministic effects, which is the severity of acute tissue damage that is certain to happen, such as acute radiation syndrome; these effects are compared to the physical quantity absorbed dose measured by the unit gray (Gy). [3]

Acute radiation syndrome Health problems caused by exposure to very high levels of ionizing radiation

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is a collection of health effects due to exposure to high amounts of ionizing radiation over a short period of time. Within the first days symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. This may then be followed by a few hours or weeks with little symptoms. After this, depending on the total dose of radiation, people may develop infections, bleeding, dehydration, and confusion, or there may be a period with few symptoms. This is finally followed by either recovery or death. The symptoms can begin within one hour and may last for several months.

The gray is a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units (SI). It is defined as the absorption of one joule of radiation energy per kilogram of matter.

One sievert equals 100 rem. The rem is an older, non-SI unit of measurement.

The roentgen equivalent man is an older, CGS unit of equivalent dose, effective dose, and committed dose which are measures of the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body.


CIPM definition of the sievert

The SI definition given by the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) says:

"The quantity dose equivalent H is the product of the absorbed dose D of ionizing radiation and the dimensionless factor Q (quality factor) defined as a function of linear energy transfer by the ICRU"

H = Q × D [4]

The value of Q is not defined further by CIPM, but it requires the use of the relevant ICRU recommendations to provide this value.

The CIPM also says that "in order to avoid any risk of confusion between the absorbed dose D and the dose equivalent H, the special names for the respective units should be used, that is, the name gray should be used instead of joules per kilogram for the unit of absorbed dose D and the name sievert instead of joules per kilogram for the unit of dose equivalent H". [4]

In summary:

The gray – quantity D - Absorbed dose

1 Gy = 1 joule/kilogram – a physical quantity. 1 Gy is the deposit of a joule of radiation energy per kg of matter or tissue.

The sievert – quantity H - Dose equivalent

1 Sv = 1 joule/kilogram – a biological effect. The sievert represents the equivalent biological effect of the deposit of a joule of radiation energy in a kilogram of human tissue. The equivalence to absorbed dose is denoted by Q.

ICRP definition of the sievert

The ICRP definition of the sievert is: [5]

"The sievert is the special name for the SI unit of equivalent dose, effective dose, and operational dose quantities. The unit is joule per kilogram."

The sievert is used for a number of dose quantities which are described in this article and are part of the international radiological protection system devised and defined by the ICRP and ICRU.

External dose quantities

External radiation dose quantities used in radiological protection Dose quantities and units.png
External radiation dose quantities used in radiological protection

The sievert is used to represent the stochastic effects of external ionizing radiation on human tissue. The radiation doses received are measured in practice by radiometric instruments and dosimeters and are called operational quantities. To relate these actual received doses to likely health effects, protection quantities have been developed to predict the likely health effects using the results of large epidemiological studies. Consequently, this has required the creation of a number of different dose quantities within a coherent system developed by the ICRU working with the ICRP.

The external dose quantities and their relationships are shown in the accompanying diagram. The ICRU is primarily responsible for the operational dose quantities, based upon the application of ionising radiation metrology, and the ICRP is primarily responsible for the protection quantities, based upon modelling of dose uptake and biological sensitivity of the human body.

Naming conventions

The ICRU/ICRP dose quantities have specific purposes and meanings, but some use common words in a different order. There can be confusion between, for instance, equivalent dose and dose equivalent.

Although the CIPM definition states that the linear energy transfer function (Q) of the ICRU is used in calculating the biological effect, the ICRP in 1990 [6] developed the "protection" dose quantities effective and equivalent dose which are calculated from more complex computational models and are distinguished by not having the phrase dose equivalent in their name. Only the operational dose quantities which still use Q for calculation retain the phrase dose equivalent. However, there are joint ICRU/ICRP proposals to simplify this system by changes to the operational dose definitions to harmonise with those of protection quantities. These were outlined at the 3rd International Symposium on Radiological Protection in October 2015, and if implemented would make the naming of operational quantities more logical by introducing "dose to lens of eye" and "dose to local skin" as equivalent doses. [7]

In the USA there are differently named dose quantities which are not part of the ICRP nomenclature. [8]

Physical quantities

These are directly measurable physical quantities in which no allowance has been made for biological effects. Radiation fluence is the number of radiation particles impinging per unit area per unit time, kerma is the ionising effect on air of gamma rays and X-rays and is used for instrument calibration, and absorbed dose is the amount of radiation energy deposited per unit mass in the matter or tissue under consideration.

Operational quantities

Operational quantities are measured in practice, and are the means of directly measuring dose uptake due to exposure, or predicting dose uptake in a measured environment. In this way they are used for practical dose control, by providing an estimate or upper limit for the value of the protection quantities related to an exposure. They are also used in practical regulations and guidance. [9]

The calibration of individual and area dosimeters in photon fields is performed by measuring the collision "air kerma free in air" under conditions of secondary electron equilibrium. Then the appropriate operational quantity is derived applying a conversion coefficient that relates the air kerma to the appropriate operational quantity. The conversion coefficients for photon radiation are published by the ICRU. [10]

Simple (non-anthropomorphic) "phantoms" are used to relate operational quantities to measured free-air irradiation. The ICRU sphere phantom is based on the definition of an ICRU 4-element tissue-equivalent material which does not really exist and cannot be fabricated. [11] The ICRU sphere is a theoretical 30 cm diameter "tissue equivalent" sphere consisting of a material with a density of 1 g·cm−3 and a mass composition of 76.2% oxygen, 11.1% carbon, 10.1% hydrogen and 2.6% nitrogen. This material is specified to most closely approximate human tissue in its absorption properties. According to the ICRP, the ICRU "sphere phantom" in most cases adequately approximates the human body as regards the scattering and attenuation of penetrating radiation fields under consideration. [12] Thus radiation of a particular energy fluence will have roughly the same energy deposition within the sphere as it would in the equivalent mass of human tissue. [13]

To allow for back-scattering and absorption of the human body, the "slab phantom" is used to represent the human torso for practical calibration of whole body dosimeters. The slab phantom is 300 mm × 300 mm × 150 mm depth to represent the human torso. [13]

The joint ICRU/ICRP proposals outlined at the 3rd International Symposium on Radiological Protection in October 2015 to change the definition of operational quantities would not change the present use of calibration phantoms or reference radiation fields. [7]

Protection quantities

Protection quantities are calculated models, and are used as "limiting quantities" to specify exposure limits to ensure, in the words of ICRP, "that the occurrence of stochastic health effects is kept below unacceptable levels and that tissue reactions are avoided". [14] [15] [13] These quantities cannot be measured in practice but their values are derived using models of external dose to internal organs of the human body, using anthropomorphic phantoms. These are 3D computational models of the body which take into account a number of complex effects such as body self-shielding and internal scattering of radiation. The calculation starts with organ absorbed dose, and then applies radiation and tissue weighting factors. [16]

As protection quantities cannot practically be measured, operational quantities must be used to relate them to practical radiation instrument and dosimeter responses. [17]

Instrument and dosimetry response

This is an actual reading obtained from such as an ambient dose gamma monitor, or a personal dosimeter. Such instruments are calibrated using radiation metrology techniques which will trace them to a national radiation standard, and thereby relate them to an operational quantity. The readings of instruments and dosimeters are used to prevent the uptake of excessive dose and to provide records of dose uptake to satisfy radiation safety legislation; such as in the UK, the Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999.

Calculating protection dose quantities

Graphic showing relationship of "protection dose" quantities in SI units SI Radiation dose units.png
Graphic showing relationship of "protection dose" quantities in SI units

The sievert is used in external radiation protection for equivalent dose (the external-source, whole-body exposure effects, in a uniform field), and effective dose (which depends on the body parts irradiated).

These dose quantities are weighted averages of absorbed dose designed to be representative of the stochastic health effects of radiation, and use of the sievert implies that appropriate weighting factors have been applied to the absorbed dose measurement or calculation (expressed in grays). [1]

The ICRP calculation provides two weighting factors to enable the calculation of protection quantities.

 1. The radiation factor WR, which is specific for radiation type R – This is used in calculating the equivalent dose HT which can be for the whole body or for individual organs.
 2. The tissue weighting factor WT, which is specific for tissue type T being irradiated. This is used with WR to calculate the contributory organ doses to arrive at an effective dose E for non-uniform irradiation.

When a whole body is irradiated uniformly only the radiation weighting factor WR is used, and the effective dose equals the whole body equivalent dose. But if the irradiation of a body is partial or non-uniform the tissue factor WT is used to calculate dose to each organ or tissue. These are then summed to obtain the effective dose. In the case of uniform irradiation of the human body, these summate to 1, but in the case of partial or non-uniform irradiation, they will summate to a lower value depending on the organs concerned; reflecting the lower overall health effect. The calculation process is shown on the accompanying diagram. This approach calculates the biological risk contribution to the whole body, taking into account complete or partial irradiation, and the radiation type or types. The values of these weighting factors are conservatively chosen to be greater than the bulk of experimental values observed for the most sensitive cell types, based on averages of those obtained for the human population.

Radiation type weighting factor WR

Since different radiation types have different biological effects for the same deposited energy, a corrective radiation weighting factor WR, which is dependent on the radiation type and on the target tissue, is applied to convert the absorbed dose measured in the unit gray to determine the equivalent dose. The result is given the unit sievert.

Radiation weighting factors WR
used to represent relative biological effectiveness
according to ICRP report 103 [1]
RadiationEnergy (E)WR (formerly Q)
x-rays, gamma rays,
beta particles, muons
neutrons < 1 MeV2.5 + 18.2·e−[ln(E)]²/6
1 MeV - 50 MeV5.0 + 17.0·e−[ln(2·E)]²/6
> 50 MeV2.5 + 3.25·e−[ln(0.04·E)]²/6
protons, charged pions 2
alpha particles,
Nuclear fission products,
heavy nuclei

The equivalent dose is calculated by multiplying the absorbed energy, averaged by mass over an organ or tissue of interest, by a radiation weighting factor appropriate to the type and energy of radiation. To obtain the equivalent dose for a mix of radiation types and energies, a sum is taken over all types of radiation energy dose. [1]


HT is the equivalent dose absorbed by tissue T
DT,R is the absorbed dose in tissue T by radiation type R
WR is the radiation weighting factor defined by regulation

Thus for example, an absorbed dose of 1 Gy by alpha particles will lead to an equivalent dose of 20 Sv.

The radiation weighting factor for neutrons has been revised over time and remains controversial. Neutron radiation weighting factor as a function of kinetic energy.gif
The radiation weighting factor for neutrons has been revised over time and remains controversial.

This may seem to be a paradox. It implies that the energy of the incident radiation field in joules has increased by a factor of 20, thereby violating the laws of Conservation of energy. However, this is not the case. The sievert is used only to convey the fact that a gray of absorbed alpha particles would cause twenty times the biological effect of a gray of absorbed x-rays. It is this biological component that is being expressed when using sieverts rather than the actual energy delivered by the incident absorbed radiation.

Tissue type weighting factor WT

The second weighting factor is the tissue factor WT, but it is used only if there has been non-uniform irradiation of a body. If the body has been subject to uniform irradiation, the effective dose equals the whole body equivalent dose, and only the radiation weighting factor WR is used. But if there is partial or non-uniform body irradiation the calculation must take account of the individual organ doses received, because the sensitivity of each organ to irradiation depends on their tissue type. This summed dose from only those organs concerned gives the effective dose for the whole body. The tissue weighting factor is used to calculate those individual organ dose contributions.

The ICRP values for WT are given in the table shown here.

Weighting factors for different organs [18]
OrgansTissue weighting factors
1990 [19]
2007 [1]
Red bone marrow
Colon 0.120.12
Stomach 0.120.12
Bladder 0.050.04
Liver 0.050.04
Oesophagus 0.050.04
Skin 0.010.01
Bone surface0.030.010.01
Salivary glands 0.01
Brain 0.01
Remainder of body0.300.050.12

The article on effective dose gives the method of calculation. The absorbed dose is first corrected for the radiation type to give the equivalent dose, and then corrected for the tissue receiving the radiation. Some tissues like bone marrow are particularly sensitive to radiation, so they are given a weighting factor that is disproportionally large relative to the fraction of body mass they represent. Other tissues like the hard bone surface are particularly insensitive to radiation and are assigned a disproportionally low weighting factor.

In summary, the sum of tissue-weighted doses to each irradiated organ or tissue of the body adds up to the effective dose for the body. The use of effective dose enables comparisons of overall dose received regardless of the extent of body irradiation.

Operational quantities

The operational quantities are used in practical applications for monitoring and investigating external exposure situations. They are defined for practical operational measurements and assessment of doses in the body. [5] Three external operational dose quantities were devised to relate operational dosimeter and instrument measurements to the calculated protection quantities. Also devised were two phantoms, The ICRU "slab" and "sphere" phantoms which relate these quantities to incident radiation quantities using the Q(L) calculation.

Ambient dose equivalent

This is used for area monitoring of penetrating radiation and is usually expressed as the quantity H*(10). This means the radiation is equivalent to that found 10 mm within the ICRU sphere phantom in the direction of origin of the field. [20] An example of penetrating radiation is gamma rays.

Directional dose equivalent

This is used for monitoring of low penetrating radiation and is usually expressed as the quantity H'(0.07). This means the radiation is equivalent to that found at a depth of 0.07 mm in the ICRU sphere phantom. [21] Examples of low penetrating radiation are alpha particles, beta particles and low-energy photons. This dose quantity is used for the determination of equivalent dose to such as the skin, lens of the eye. [22] In radiological protection practice value of omega is usually not specified as the dose is usually at a maximum at the point of interest.

Personal dose equivalent

This is used for individual dose monitoring, such as with a personal dosimeter worn on the body. The recommended depth for assessment is 10 mm which gives the quantity Hp(10). [23]

Proposals for changing the definition of protection dose quantities

In order to simplify the means of calculating operational quantities and assist in the comprehension of radiation dose protection quantities, ICRP Committee 2 & ICRU Report Committee 26 started in 2010 an examination of different means of achieving this by dose coefficients related to Effective Dose or Absorbed Dose.


1. For area monitoring of effective dose of whole body it would be:

H = Φ × conversion coefficient

The driver for this is that H(10) is not a reasonable estimate of effective dose due to high energy photons, as a result of the extension of particle types and energy ranges to be considered in ICRP report 116. This change would remove the need for the ICRU sphere and introduce a new quantity called Emax

2. For individual monitoring, to measure deterministic effects on eye lens and skin, it would be:

D = Φ × conversion coefficient for absorbed dose.

The driver for this is the need to measure the deterministic effect, which it is suggested, is more appropriate than stochastic effect. This would calculate equivalent dose quantities Hlens and Hskin.

This would remove the need for the ICRU Sphere and the Q-L function. Any changes would replace ICRU report 51, and part of report 57. [7]

A final draft report was issued in July 2017 by ICRU/ICRP for consultation. [24]

Internal dose quantities

The sievert is used for human internal dose quantities in calculating committed dose. This is dose from radionuclides which have been ingested or inhaled into the human body, and thereby "committed" to irradiate the body for a period of time. The concepts of calculating protection quantities as described for external radiation applies, but as the source of radiation is within the tissue of the body, the calculation of absorbed organ dose uses different coefficients and irradiation mechanisms.

The ICRP defines Committed effective dose, E(t) as the sum of the products of the committed organ or tissue equivalent doses and the appropriate tissue weighting factors WT, where t is the integration time in years following the intake. The commitment period is taken to be 50 years for adults, and to age 70 years for children. [5]

The ICRP further states "For internal exposure, committed effective doses are generally determined from an assessment of the intakes of radionuclides from bioassay measurements or other quantities (e.g., activity retained in the body or in daily excreta). The radiation dose is determined from the intake using recommended dose coefficients". [25]

A committed dose from an internal source is intended to carry the same effective risk as the same amount of equivalent dose applied uniformly to the whole body from an external source, or the same amount of effective dose applied to part of the body.

Health effects

Ionizing radiation has deterministic and stochastic effects on human health. Deterministic (acute tissue effect) events happen with certainty, with the resulting health conditions occurring in every individual who received the same high dose. Stochastic (cancer induction and genetic) events are inherently random, with most individuals in a group failing to ever exhibit any causal negative health effects after exposure, while an indeterministic random minority do, often with the resulting subtle negative health effects being observable only after large detailed epidemiology studies.

The use of the sievert implies that only stochastic effects are being considered, and to avoid confusion deterministic effects are conventionally compared to values of absorbed dose expressed by the SI unit gray (Gy).

Stochastic effects

Stochastic effects are those that occur randomly, such as radiation-induced cancer. The consensus of nuclear regulators, governments and the UNSCEAR is that the incidence of cancers due to ionizing radiation can be modeled as increasing linearly with effective dose at a rate of 5.5% per sievert. [1] This is known as the Linear no-threshold model (LNT model). Some commentators such as the French Academy of Sciences (2005, Dose-effect relationships and...Tubiana, M. and Aurengo, A. Académie des Sciences & Académie Nationale de Médecine. (2005) and Oxford University (Wade Allison, 2015, Nuclear is for Life, pp79–80, ISBN   978-0-9562756-4-6) argue that this LNT model is now outdated and should be replaced with a threshold below which the body's natural cell processes repair damage and/or replace damaged cells. There is general agreement that the risk is much higher for infants and fetuses than adults, higher for the middle-aged than for seniors, and higher for women than for men, though there is no quantitative consensus about this. [26] [27]

Deterministic effects

This is a graph depicting the effect of dose fractionation on the ability of gamma rays to cause cell death. The blue line is for cells which were not given a chance to recover; the radiation was delivered in one session, the red line is for cells which were allowed to stand for a time and recover. With the pause in delivery conferring radioresistance. Effectofselfrepair.svg
This is a graph depicting the effect of dose fractionation on the ability of gamma rays to cause cell death. The blue line is for cells which were not given a chance to recover; the radiation was delivered in one session, the red line is for cells which were allowed to stand for a time and recover. With the pause in delivery conferring radioresistance.

The deterministic (acute tissue damage) effects that can lead to acute radiation syndrome only occur in the case of acute high doses (≳ 0.1 Gy) and high dose rates (≳ 0.1 Gy/h) and are conventionally not measured using the unit sievert, but use the unit gray (Gy). A model of deterministic risk would require different weighting factors (not yet established) than are used in the calculation of equivalent and effective dose.

ICRP dose limits

The ICRP recommends a number of limits for dose uptake in table 8 of report 103. These limits are "situational", for planned, emergency and existing situations. Within these situations, limits are given for the following groups; [28]

For occupational exposure, the limit is 50 mSv in a single year with a maximum of 100 mSv in a consecutive five-year period, and for the public to an average of 1 mSv (0.001 Sv) of effective dose per year, not including medical and occupational exposures. [1]

For comparison, natural radiation levels inside the US capitol building are such that a human body would receive an additional dose rate of 0.85 mSv/a, close to the regulatory limit, because of the uranium content of the granite structure. [29] According to the conservative ICRP model, someone who spent 20 years inside the capitol building would have an extra one in a thousand chance of getting cancer, over and above any other existing risk (calculated as: 20 a·0.85 mSv/a·0.001 Sv/mSv·5.5%/Sv ≈ 0.1%). However, that "existing risk" is much higher; an average American would have a 10% chance of getting cancer during this same 20-year period, even without any exposure to artificial radiation (see natural Epidemiology of cancer and cancer rates). These estimates are, however, unmindful of every living cell's natural repair mechanisms, evolved over a few billion years of exposure to environmental chemical and radiation threats that were higher in the past, and exaggerated by the evolution of oxygen metabolism.

Dose examples

USA Dept of Energy 2010 dose chart in sieverts for a variety of situations and applications. 027 dose-ranges-sievert.jpg
USA Dept of Energy 2010 dose chart in sieverts for a variety of situations and applications.
Various doses of radiation in sieverts, ranging from trivial to lethal, expressed as comparative areas. Exposure chart-XKCD.svg
Various doses of radiation in sieverts, ranging from trivial to lethal, expressed as comparative areas.
Comparison of radiation doses - includes the amount detected on the trip from Earth to Mars by the RAD on the MSL (2011-2013). PIA17601-Comparisons-RadiationExposure-MarsTrip-20131209.png
Comparison of radiation doses - includes the amount detected on the trip from Earth to Mars by the RAD on the MSL (2011–2013).

Significant radiation doses are not frequently encountered in everyday life. The following examples can help illustrate relative magnitudes; these are meant to be examples only, not a comprehensive list of possible radiation doses. An "acute dose" is one that occurs over a short and finite period of time, while a "chronic dose" is a dose that continues for an extended period of time so that it is better described by a dose rate.

Dose examples

98nSv: banana equivalent dose, an illustrative unit of radiation dose representing the measure of radiation from a typical banana [35] [lower-alpha 1]
250nSv:U.S. limit on effective dose from a single airport security screening [36]
5–10μSv:one set of dental radiographs [37]
80μSv:average (one time) dose to people living within 10 mi (16 km) of the plant during the Three Mile Island accident [38]
400–600μSv:two-view mammogram, using weighting factors updated in 2007 [39]
1mSv:U.S. 10 CFR § 20.1301(a)(1) dose limit for individual members of the public, total effective dose equivalent, per annum [40]
1.5–1.7mSv:annual dose for flight attendants [41]
2–7mSv:barium fluoroscopy, e.g. Barium meal, up to 2 minutes, 4–24 spot images [42]
10–30mSv:single full-body CT scan [43] [44]
50mSv:U.S. 10 C.F.R. § 20.1201(a)(1)(i) occupational dose limit, total effective dose equivalent, per annum [45]
68mSv:estimated maximum dose to evacuees who lived closest to the Fukushima I nuclear accidents [46]
80mSv:6-month stay on the International Space Station
160mSv:chronic dose to lungs over one year smoking 1.5 packs of cigarettes per day, mostly due to inhalation of Polonium-210 and Lead-210 [47] [48]
250mSv:6-month trip to Mars—radiation due to cosmic rays, which are very difficult to shield against
500mSv:the U.S. 10 C.F.R. § 20.1201(a)(2)(ii) occupational dose limit, shallow-dose equivalent to skin, per annum [45]
670mSv:highest dose received by a worker responding to the Fukushima emergency [49] [lower-alpha 1]
1Sv:maximum allowed radiation exposure for NASA astronauts over their career [31]
4–5Sv:dose required to kill a human with a 50% risk within 30 days (LD50/30), if the dose is received over a very short duration [50] [51]
4.5–6Sv:fatal acute doses during Goiânia accident
5.1Sv:fatal acute dose to Harry Daghlian in 1945 criticality accident [52]
10 to 17Sv:fatal acute doses during Tokaimura nuclear accident. Hisashi Ouchi who received 17 Sv was kept alive for 83 days after the accident. [53]
21Sv:fatal acute dose to Louis Slotin in 1946 criticality accident [52]
36Sv:fatal acute dose to Cecil Kelley in 1958, death occurred within 35 hours. [54]
54Sv:fatal acute dose to Boris Korchilov in 1961 after a reactor cooling system failed on the Soviet submarine K-19 which required work in the reactor with no shielding [55]
64Sv:nonfatal dose to Albert Stevens spread over ≈21 years, due to a 1945 plutonium injection experiment by doctors working on the secret Manhattan Project. [56] [lower-alpha 1]

Dose rate examples

All conversions between hours and years have assumed continuous presence in a steady field, disregarding known fluctuations, intermittent exposure and radioactive decay. Converted values are shown in parentheses.

<1mSv/a<100nSv/hSteady dose rates below 100 nSv/h are difficult to measure.[ citation needed ]
1mSv/a(100nSv/h avg)ICRP recommended maximum for external irradiation of the human body, excluding medical and occupational exposures.
2.4mSv/a(270nSv/h avg)Human exposure to natural background radiation, global average [lower-alpha 1]
(8mSv/a)810nSv/h avgNext to the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement (May 2019) [57]
~8mSv/a(~900nSv/h avg)Average natural background radiation in Finland [58]
24mSv/a(2.7μSv/h avg)Natural background radiation at airline cruise altitude [59] [lower-alpha 2]
(46mSv/a)5.19μSv/h avgNext to Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, before installing the New Sarcophagus in November 2016 [60]
130mSv/a(15μSv/h avg)Ambient field inside most radioactive house in Ramsar, Iran [61] [lower-alpha 3]
(350mSv/a)39.8μSv/h avginside "The Claw" of Chernobyl [62]
(800mSv/a)90μSv/hNatural radiation on a monazite beach near Guarapari, Brazil. [63]
(9Sv/a)1mSv/hNRC definition of a high radiation area in a nuclear power plant, warranting a chain-link fence [64]
2–20mSv/hTypical dose rate for activated reactor wall in possible future fusion reactors after 100 years. [65] After approximately 300 years of decay the fusion waste would produce the same dose rate as exposure to coal ash, with the volume of fusion waste naturally being orders of magnitude less than from coal ash. [66] Immediate predicted activation is 90 MGy/a. [67]
(1.7kSv/a)190mSv/hHighest reading from fallout of the Trinity bomb, 20 mi (32 km) away, 3 hours after detonation. [68] [lower-alpha 3]
(2.3MSv/a)270Sv/htypical PWR spent fuel bundle, after 10-year cooldown, no shielding [69]
(4.6–5.6MSv/a)530–650Sv/hThe radiation level inside the primary containment vessel of the second BWR-reactor of the Fukushima power station, as of February 2017, six years after a suspected meltdown. [70] [71] [72] [73] [74] In this environment, it takes between 22 to 34 seconds to accumulate a median lethal dose (LD50/30).

Notes on examples:

  1. 1 2 3 4 Noted figures are dominated by a committed dose which gradually turned into effective dose over an extended period of time. Therefore the true acute dose must be lower, but standard dosimetry practice is to account committed doses as acute in the year the radioisotopes are taken into the body.
  2. The dose rate received by air crews is highly dependent on the radiation weighting factors chosen for protons and neutrons, which have changed over time and remain controversial.
  3. 1 2 Noted figures exclude any committed dose from radioisotopes taken into the body. Therefore the total radiation dose would be higher unless respiratory protection was used.


The sievert has its origin in the röntgen equivalent man (rem) which was derived from CGS units. The International Commission on Radiation Units and Measurements (ICRU) promoted a switch to coherent SI units in the 1970s, [75] and announced in 1976 that it planned to formulate a suitable unit for equivalent dose. [76] The ICRP pre-empted the ICRU by introducing the sievert in 1977. [77]

The sievert was adopted by the International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) in 1980, five years after adopting the gray. The CIPM then issued an explanation in 1984, recommending when the sievert should be used as opposed to the gray. That explanation was updated in 2002 to bring it closer to the ICRP's definition of equivalent dose, which had changed in 1990. Specifically, the ICRP had introduced equivalent dose, renamed the quality factor (Q) to radiation weighting factor (WR), and dropped another weighting factor 'N' in 1990. In 2002, the CIPM similarly dropped the weighting factor 'N' from their explanation but otherwise kept other old terminology and symbols. This explanation only appears in the appendix to the SI brochure and is not part of the definition of the sievert. [78]

Common SI usage

This SI unit is named after Rolf Maximilian Sievert. As with every International System of Units (SI) unit named for a person, the first letter of its symbol is upper case (Sv). However, when an SI unit is spelled out in English, it is treated as a common noun and should always begin with a lower case letter (sievert)—except in a situation where any word in that position would be capitalized, such as at the beginning of a sentence or in material using title case.

Frequently used SI prefixes are the millisievert (1 mSv = 0.001 Sv) and microsievert (1 μSv = 0.000001 Sv) and commonly used units for time derivative or "dose rate" indications on instruments and warnings for radiological protection are μSv/h and mSv/h. Regulatory limits and chronic doses are often given in units of mSv/a or Sv/a, where they are understood to represent an average over the entire year. In many occupational scenarios, the hourly dose rate might fluctuate to levels thousands of times higher for a brief period of time, without infringing on the annual limits. The conversion from hours to years varies because of leap years and exposure schedules, but approximate conversions are:

1 mSv/h = 8.766 Sv/a
114.1 μSv/h = 1 Sv/a

Conversion from hourly rates to annual rates is further complicated by seasonal fluctuations in natural radiation, decay of artificial sources, and intermittent proximity between humans and sources. The ICRP once adopted fixed conversion for occupational exposure, although these have not appeared in recent documents: [79]

8 h = 1 day
40 h = 1 week
50 weeks = 1 year

Therefore, for occupation exposures of that time period,

1 mSv/h = 2 Sv/a
500 µSv/h = 1 Sv/a

Ionizing radiation quantities

Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation Radioactivity and radiation.png
Graphic showing relationships between radioactivity and detected ionizing radiation

The following table shows radiation quantities in SI and non-SI units:

Ionising radiation related quantities view    talk    edit
QuantityUnitSymbolDerivationYear SI equivalence
Activity (A) becquerel Bqs−11974SI unit
curie Ci3.7 × 1010 s−119533.7×1010 Bq
rutherford Rd106 s−119461,000,000 Bq
Exposure (X) coulomb per kilogram C/kgC⋅kg−1 of air1974SI unit
röntgen R esu / 0.001293 g of air19282.58 × 10−4 C/kg
Absorbed dose (D) gray Gy J⋅kg−11974SI unit
erg per gramerg/gerg⋅g−119501.0 × 10−4 Gy
rad rad100 erg⋅g−119530.010 Gy
Dose equivalent (H) sievert SvJ⋅kg−1 × WR 1977SI unit
röntgen equivalent man rem100 erg⋅g−119710.010 Sv

Although the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission permits the use of the units curie, rad, and rem alongside SI units, [80] the European Union European units of measurement directives required that their use for "public health ... purposes" be phased out by 31 December 1985. [81]

Rem equivalence

An older unit for the dose equivalent is the rem, [82] still often used in the United States. One sievert is equal to 100 rem:

100.0000 rem=100,000.0 mrem=1 Sv=1.000000 Sv=1000.000 mSv=1,000,000 µSv
1.0000 rem=1000.0 mrem=1 rem=0.010000 Sv=10.000 mSv=10000 µSv
0.1000 rem=100.0 mrem=1 mSv=0.001000 Sv=1.000 mSv=1000 µSv
0.0010 rem=1.0 mrem=1 mrem=0.000010 Sv=0.010 mSv=10 µSv
0.0001 rem=0.1 mrem=1 µSv=0.000001 Sv=0.001 mSv=1 µSv

See also


  1. Not be confused with the sverdrup or the svedberg, two non-SI units that sometimes use the same symbol.

Related Research Articles

A radiation dosimeter is a device that measures dose uptake of external ionizing radiation. It is worn by the person being monitored when used as a personal dosimeter, and is a record of the radiation dose received. Modern electronic personal dosimeters can give a continuous readout of cumulative dose and current dose rate, and can warn the wearer with an audible alarm when a specified dose rate or a cumulative dose is exceeded. Other dosimeters, such as thermoluminescent or film types, require processing after use to reveal the cumulative dose received, and cannot give a current indication of dose when being worn.

Radiation dosimetry in the fields of health physics and radiation protection is the measurement, calculation and assessment of the ionizing radiation dose absorbed by an object, usually the human body. This applies both internally, due to ingested or inhaled radioactive substances, or externally due to irradiation by sources of radiation.

Radiation protection, also known as radiological protection, is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "The protection of people from harmful effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the means for achieving this". Exposure can be from a source of radiation external to the human body or due to internal irradiation caused by the ingestion of radioactive contamination.

Health physics

Health physics is the applied physics of radiation protection for health and health care purposes. It is the science concerned with the recognition, evaluation, and control of health hazards to permit the safe use and application of ionizing radiation. Health physics professionals promote excellence in the science and practice of radiation protection and safety. Health physicists principally work at facilities where radionuclides or other sources of ionizing radiation are used or produced; these include hospitals, government laboratories, academic and research institutions, nuclear power plants, regulatory agencies, and manufacturing plants.

Kerma is an acronym for "kinetic energy released per unit mass", defined as the sum of the initial kinetic energies of all the charged particles liberated by uncharged ionizing radiation in a sample of matter, divided by the mass of the sample. It is defined by the quotient .

The rad is a unit of absorbed radiation dose, defined as 1 rad = 0.01 Gy = 0.01 J/kg. It was originally defined in CGS units in 1953 as the dose causing 100 ergs of energy to be absorbed by one gram of matter. The material absorbing the radiation can be human tissue or silicon microchips or any other medium.

Radiobiology is a field of clinical and basic medical sciences that involves the study of the action of ionizing radiation on living things, especially health effects of radiation. Ionizing radiation is generally harmful and potentially lethal to living things but can have health benefits in radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and thyrotoxicosis. Its most common impact is the induction of cancer with a latent period of years or decades after exposure. High doses can cause visually dramatic radiation burns, and/or rapid fatality through acute radiation syndrome. Controlled doses are used for medical imaging and radiotherapy.

In radiobiology, the relative biological effectiveness is the ratio of biological effectiveness of one type of ionizing radiation relative to another, given the same amount of absorbed energy. The RBE is an empirical value that varies depending on the particles, energies involved, and which biological effects are deemed relevant.

Committed dose equivalent and Committed effective dose equivalent are dose quantities used in the United States system of Radiological Protection for irradiation due to an internal source.

The collective effective dose, dose quantity S, is calculated as the sum of all individual effective doses over the time period or during the operation being considered due to ionizing radiation. It can be used to estimate the total health effects of a process or accidental release involving ionizing radiation to an exposed population. The total collective dose is the dose to the exposed human population between the time of release until its elimination from the environment, perhaps integrating to time equals infinity. However, doses are generally reported for specific populations and a stated time interval. The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) states:"To avoid aggregation of low individual doses over extended time periods and wide geographical regions the range in effective dose and the time period should be limited and specified.

Internal dosimetry is the science and art of internal ionising radiation dose assessment due to radionuclides incorporated inside the human body.

Roentgen (unit) legacy unit of measurement for the kerma of X-rays and gamma rays up to 3 MeV; equals 0.258 mC/kg

The roentgen or röntgen is a legacy unit of measurement for the exposure of X-rays and gamma rays, and is defined as the electric charge freed by such radiation in a specified volume of air divided by the mass of that air. In 1928, it was adopted as the first international measurement quantity for ionising radiation to be defined for radiation protection, as it was then the most easily replicated method of measuring air ionization by using ion chambers. It is named after the German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, who discovered X-rays.


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