Roentgen equivalent man

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The roentgen equivalent man (or rem)[1][2] is an older, CGS unit of equivalent dose, effective dose, and committed dose. Quantities measured in rem are designed to represent the stochastic biological effects of ionizing radiation, primarily radiation-induced cancer. These quantities are a complex weighted average of absorbed dose, which is a clear physical quantity measured in rads. There is no universally applicable conversion constant from rad to rem; the conversion depends on relative biological effectiveness (RBE).

The rem is defined since 1976 as equal to 0.01 sievert, which is the more commonly used SI unit outside of the United States. A number of earlier definitions going back to 1945 were derived from the roentgen unit, which was named after Wilhelm Röntgen, a German scientist who discovered X-rays. The acronym is now a misleading historical artifact, since 1 roentgen actually deposits about 0.96 rem in soft biological tissue, when all weighting factors equal unity. Older units of rem following other definitions are up to 17% smaller than the modern rem.

One rem carries with it a 0.005% chance of eventually developing cancer.[3] Doses greater than 100 rem received over a short time period are likely to cause acute radiation syndrome (ARS), possibly leading to death within weeks if left untreated. Note that the quantities that are measured in rem were not designed to be correlated to ARS symptoms. The absorbed dose, measured in rad, is the best indicator of ARS.[4]:592–593

A rem is a large dose of radiation, so the millirem (mrem), which is one thousandth of a rem, is often used for the dosages commonly encountered, such as the amount of radiation received from medical x-rays and background sources.


The rem and millirem are CGS units in widest use among the American public, industry, and government.[5] SI units are the norm outside of the United States, and they are increasingly encountered within the US in academic, scientific, and engineering environments.

The conventional units for dose rate is mrem/h. Regulatory limits and chronic doses are often given in units of mrem/yr or rem/yr, where they are understood to represent the total amount of radiation allowed (or received) 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 total exposure limits. There is no exact conversion from hours to years because of leap years, but approximate conversions are:

1 mrem/h = 8766 mrem/yr
0.1141 mrem/h = 1000 mrem/yr

The ICRP once adopted fixed conversion for occupational exposure, although these have not appeared in recent documents:[6]

8 h = 1 day
40 h = 1 week
50 week = 1 yr

Therefore, for occupation exposures of that time period,

1 mrem/h = 2000 mrem/yr
0.5 mrem/h = 1000 mrem/yr

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) strongly discourages Americans from expressing doses in rem, in favor of recommending the SI unit.[7] The NIST recommends defining the rem in relation to the SI in every document where this unit is used.[8] For US industries and US firms that do not require the sole use of SI, however, the unit rem is often preferred.

Health effects[edit]

Ionizing radiation has deterministic and stochastic effects on human health. The deterministic effects that can lead to acute radiation syndrome only occur in the case of high doses (> ~10 rad or > 0.1 Gy) and high dose rates (> ~10 rad/h or > 0.1 Gy/h). A model of deterministic risk would require different weighting factors (not yet established) than are used in the calculation of equivalent and effective dose. To avoid confusion, deterministic effects are normally compared to absorbed dose in units of rad, not rem.

Stochastic effects are those that occur randomly, such as radiation-induced cancer. The consensus of the nuclear industry, nuclear regulators, and governments, is that the incidence of cancers due to ionizing radiation can be modeled as increasing linearly with effective dose at a rate of 0.055% per rem (5.5%/Sv).[3] Individual studies, alternate models, and earlier versions of the industry consensus have produced other risk estimates scattered around this consensus model. 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.[9][10] There is much less data, and much more controversy, regarding the possibility of cardiac and teratogenic effects, and the modelling of internal dose.[11]

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommends limiting artificial irradiation of the public to an average of 100 mrem (1 mSv) of effective dose per year, not including medical and occupational exposures.[3] For comparison, radiation levels inside the US United States Capitol are 85 mrem/yr (0.85 mSv/yr), close to the regulatory limit, because of the uranium content of the granite structure.[12] According to the 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. (20 yr × 85 mrem/yr × 0.001 rem/mrem × 0.055%/rem = ~0.1%) That "existing risk" is much higher; an average person would have a one in ten chance of getting cancer during this same 20-year period, even without any exposure to artificial radiation.


The concept of the rem first appeared in the literature in 1945,[13] and was given its first definition in 1947.[14] The definition was refined in 1950 as "that dose of any ionizing radiation which produces a relevant biological effect equal to that produced by one roentgen of high-voltage x-radiation."[15] This definition left open the question of what might be considered a "relevant biological effect," and did not prescribe if the roentgen should be measured in air, water, or tissue. Using data available at the time, the rem was variously evaluated as 83, 93, or 95 erg/gram.[16] Along with the introduction of the rad in 1953, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) decided to "continue" the use of the rem. The US National Committee on Radiation Protection and Measurements noted in 1954 that this effectively implied an increase in the magnitude of the rem to match the rad (100 erg/gram).[17] The ICRP officially adopted the rem as the unit of equivalent dose in 1962 to measure the way different types of radiation distribute energy in tissue, and began recommending values of relative biological effectiveness (RBE) for various types of radiation.[citation needed] In practice, the unit of rem was used to denote that an RBE factor had been applied to a number which was originally in units of rad or roentgen. In 1977 the rem was redefined by the ICRP as 0.01 sievert or 0.01 J/kg, with the intention that the sievert would come to replace the rem.

The International Committee for Weights and Measures (CIPM) adopted the sievert in 1980, but never accepted the use of the rem. The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recognizes that this unit is outside the SI, but temporarily accepts its use in the US with the SI.[8] The rem remains in widespread use as an industry standard in the US.[18] The United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission still permits the use of the units curie, rad and rem alongside SI units.[19]

Radiation-related quantities[edit]

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

Radiation related quantities view  talk  edit
Quantity Name Symbol Unit Year System
Activity (A) curie Ci 3.7×1010 s−1 1953 non-SI
becquerel Bq s−1 1974 SI
rutherford Rd 106s−1 1946 non-SI
Exposure (X) röntgen R esu / 0.001293g of air 1928 non-SI
Fluence (Φ) (reciprocal area) m−2 (cm−2) 1962 SI (non-SI)
Absorbed dose (D) erg·g−1 1950 non-SI
rad rad 100 erg·g−1 1953 non-SI
gray Gy J·kg−1 1974 SI
Dose equivalent (H) röntgen equivalent man rem 100 erg·g−1 1971 non-SI
sievert Sv J·kg−1×WR 1977 SI

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "RADInfo Glossary of Radiation Terms". United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved December 18, 2016. 
  2. ^ Morris, Jim; Hopkins, Jamie Smith (December 11, 2015), "The First Line of Defense", Slate, retrieved December 18, 2016 
  3. ^ a b c "The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection". Annals of the ICRP. ICRP publication 103. 37 (2–4). 2007. ISBN 978-0-7020-3048-2. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  4. ^ The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, Revised ed., US DOD 1962
  5. ^ Office of Air and Radiation; Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (May 2007). "Radiation: Risks and Realities" (PDF). Radiation: Risks and Realities. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. p. 2. Retrieved 23 May 2012. In the United States, we measure radiation doses in units called rem. Under the metric system, dose is measured in units called sieverts. One sievert is equal to 100 rem. 
  6. ^ Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection and of the International Commission on Radiological Units (PDF). National Bureau of Standards Handbook. 47. US Department of Commerce. 1950. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Ambler; Taylor, Barry N. (2008). Guide for the Use of the International System of Units (SI) (2008 ed.). Gaithersburg, MD: National Institute of Standards and Technology. p. 10. SP811. Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  8. ^ a b Hebner, Robert E. (1998-07-28). "Metric System of Measurement: Interpretation of the International System of Units for the United States" (PDF). Federal Register. US Office of the Federal Register. 63 (144): 40339. Retrieved 9 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Peck, Donald J.; Samei, Ehsan. "How to Understand and Communicate Radiation Risk". Image Wisely. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Effects of ionizing radiation : UNSCEAR 2006 report to the General Assembly, with scientific annexes. New York: United Nations. 2008. ISBN 978-92-1-142263-4. Retrieved 18 May 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  11. ^ European Committee on Radiation Risk (2010). Busby, Chris; et al., eds. 2010 recommendations of the ECRR : the health effects of exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation (PDF) (Regulators' ed.). Aberystwyth: Green Audit. ISBN 978-1-897761-16-8. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  12. ^ Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. "Radiation in the Environment" (PDF). US Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 18 May 2012. 
  13. ^ Cantrill, S.T; H.M. Parker (1945-01-05). "The Tolerance Dose". Argonne National Laboratory: US Atomic Energy Commission. Retrieved 14 May 2012. 
  14. ^ Nucleonics. 1 (2). 1947.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. ^ Parker, H.M. (1950). "Tentative Dose Units for Mixed Radiations". Radiology. 54 (2): 257–262. PMID 15403708. doi:10.1148/54.2.257. 
  16. ^ Anderson, Elda E. (March 1952). "Units of Radiation and Radioactivity" (PDF). Public Health Reports. 67 (3): 293–297. JSTOR 4588064. PMC 2030726Freely accessible. PMID 14900367. doi:10.2307/4588064. Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  17. ^ Permissible Doses from External Sources of Radiation (PDF). National Bureau of Standards Handbook. 59. US Department of Commerce. 24 September 1954. p. 31. Retrieved 14 November 2012. 
  18. ^ Handbook of Radiation Effects, 2nd edition, 2002, Andrew Holmes-Siedle and Len Adams
  19. ^ 10 CFR 20.1003. US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 2009.