Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Natural radiation sources comprise cosmic rays, terrestrial gamma rays, radionuclides in food and inhaled isotopes of radon with their decay products. These deliver doses to all organs and tissues including red bone marrow (RBM), the tissue in which leukaemia is thought to originate. In this paper we calculate the age-dependent annual RBM doses from natural radiation sources to young people and to adults at average levels of exposure in the UK. The contributions to dose are generally less complex than in the case of doses to foetuses and young children where it is necessary to take into account transfer of radionuclides across the placenta, intakes in mother's milk and changes in gut uptake in young infants. However, there is high uptake of alkaline earths and of similar elements in the developing skeleton and this significantly affects the doses from radioisotopes of these elements, not just in the teens and twenties but through into the fifth decade of life. The total equivalent dose to the RBM from all natural sources of radiation at age 15 years is calculated to be about 1200  µSv a year at average UK levels, falling to rather less than 1100  µSv per year in later life; the gentle fall from the late teens onwards reflects the diminishing effect of the high uptakes of radioisotopes of the alkaline earths and of lead in this period. About 60% of the equivalent dose is contributed by the low linear energy transfer (LET) component. Radionuclides in food make the largest contribution to equivalent doses to RBM and much the largest contribution to the absorbed dose from high LET radiation (mainly alpha particles).

Original publication




Journal article


J Radiol Prot

Publication Date





329 - 335


Adolescent, Adult, Bone Marrow, Child, Child, Preschool, Humans, Infant, Linear Energy Transfer, Radiation Dosage