Policy and Legislation - Introduction

Even if we really wish to avoid daily exposure to non-ionizing radiation, or at least to that emitted by man-made devices and appliances, the chances of succeeding are almost nil.  Moreover, we are often totally unaware of being exposed to this type of radiation – for instance, when we are a certain distance away from high voltage power lines or communication antennas of various types.



The dependence of each and every one of us on electronic devices which until just a few years ago existed only in the realm of science-fiction has increased tremendously.  "The sky" is the limit.  In the eyes of the generation growing up at the turn of the 20th to 21st centuries, this is probably self-evident, but older adults remember other times, days when even a simple land-line telephone was considered 'a miracle', as described by Amos Oz in his book 'A Tale of Love and Darkness' (Vintage, 2005), referring to a situation prevalent in the country during the 1950s:









"For years we had a regular arrangement for a telephone link with the family in Tel Aviv.  We used to phone them every three or four months, even though we didn't have a phone and neither did they [….] Father would pick up the receiver [….] and say to the operator: "Good afternoon, Madam.  Would you please give me Tel Aviv 648" [….] . Sometimes the operator would answer "Would you please wait a few minutes, Sir, [….] the Postmaster is on the line."  I could visualize this single line that connected Jerusalem with Tel Aviv and via Tel Aviv with the rest of the world.  And if this line was engaged, we were cut off from the world.  The line wound its way over wastelands and rocks, over hills and valleys, and I thought it was a great miracle."



Today we are aware of a completely different reality.  Along with the dramatic rise in the use of devices emitting non-ionizing radiation (especially radio waves), public consciousness of the potential dangers involved in the increased exposure to it has spread, and a number of questions have been raised: Who may use it? Where may it be used? Are there health consequences for the users?  Is there a need for imposed standards and restrictions? Concurrently with the research aimed at finding answers to these questions and many others, governments and other organizations began to discuss these issues and to elaborate policies aimed at restricting exposure and reducing the level of exposure to non-ionizing radiation, in both the public and personal spheres.


It is important to mention that the rapid growth of technological development, as well as the fast changes in the patterns of use of these technologies, make it difficult to establish proof of the effect of non-ionizing radiation on human health, since research is unable to 'keep up' with the technological changes.  Policy-making in this field is therefore aimed at preventing potential dangers, based on the precautionary principle, and in addition to scientific, ethical, financial and health considerations, it must also take into account public concern.


Policy-makers have focused both on appliances for voluntary personal use, and on those used in the public sphere.


  • Devices for personal use: non-ionizing radiation emitting devices such as mobile phones, microwaves, cellular phones, laser pointers – the use of which depends only on the discretion of the user.
  • Sources in the public sphere: non-ionizing radiation emitting appliances such as electric power lines, power plants, antennas and broadcasting stations - over which the public has no control regarding the levels of exposure.


A spirited public discussion is taking place on the extent and patterns of use of these devices, as well as on their potential effect in a range of fields.  For instance, the various aspects – health, social and other – of the use of cellular phones by children, or of the introduction of Wi-Fi networks in educational institutions, and of the introduction of future generations of cell phones and mobile networks (Generations 4.5 and 5) for general use in Israel.


The determining policy in this field is elaborated through laws, regulations, recommendations and directives, applied by different governmental institutions.  The terms involved in the laws and public administration are explained and clarified in the section on 'The toolbox of regulation'.


In the section on 'Policy and Legislation' we will discuss, among other subjects, the following:  the precautionary principle , the bodies involved in policy-making, the non-ionizing radiation law, policies and Legislation regarding cellular phones (including their effect on driving), cellular base stations and Wi-Fi, and magnetic and electrical fields in electric power networks.


The policy review is based on the types of radiation and their uses.  For example, in the area of extremely low frequency (ELF), we will review electric and magnetic fields from the electric power network, power generation and distribution, as well as transformation stations.  In the area of radio frequency (RF) emissions we will review sources of radiation such as cellular phones, cellular base stations, broadcasting stations, and the Wi-Fi network.