Many people overestimate the dangers of ionizing radiation. This does not only apply to civilians, but also to local rescue workers such as firemen who are rarely or never confronted with radiation, but who do have to enter the disaster zone in case of an accident. In emergency situations, the government will therefore not only have to manage the real hazards of radiation exposure, but also, and maybe in particular, the partly irrational fear of it.
Ronald Smetsers studied physics at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. After receiving his MA degree (1982) he worked, after a short spell as a physics teacher, for five years at the Radboud University in the optics and lasers research area. In 1988, shortly after ‘Chernobyl’, he joined the Radiation Research Laboratory (LSO) at RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment , where he, as Project Leader, managed the development and implementation of the Dutch National Radioactivity Monitoring Network (Landelijk Meetnet voor Radioactiviteit).
In 1990 he became head of the department for Monitoring and Measurement Methods at the LSO, and in 1992 he became head of the department of Models and Processes. In 1996 he earned his PhD degree at Groningen University, after defending a dissertation titled ‘Variations in Outdoor Radiation Levels in the Netherlands’. From 1997 until 2012 he was head of the Radiation Research Laboratory.
In 1999, before the fact-finding committee for the Bijlmermeer disaster, he defended the results of RIVM research into the health risks of the fire from the El-Al Boeing plane, which had crashed into the Bijlmermeer flats in Amsterdam in 1992. When, after the World Trade Center attack (2001), the probability of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands had also increased, he made an evaluation of the threat and possible consequences of a terrorist attack with radiological or nuclear materials, using various scenarios. He also wrote a radiological handbook for firemen and other local emergency workers.
During his entire career at RIVM he has contributed to the improvement of the National Plan for Nuclear Emergency Response. The result was put into practice in 2011 during the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Areas of expertise
- Radioactivity and ionising radiation
- Nuclear Emergency Response
- CBRN issues
- Risk assessment and risk management