Long-lived Radionuclides in the Surface Environment (LO-RISE)- Mechanistic Studies of Speciation, Environmental Transport and Transfer

Lead Research Organisation: Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC)
Department Name: SUERC

Abstract

The impact of radioactivity on humans and the wider environment is controlled by the behaviour of the radionuclides in groundwaters, soils and sediments, and this behaviour is dictated by the quantities of radionuclides, and their chemical forms. We will study some of the radionuclides which are particularly important because they are potentially present in relatively large quantities, are environmentally mobile, and are readily taken up by living organisms. The main radionuclides we are going to study are:

Carbon-14, which occurs in nature, but was produced back in the 1960s and 60s through nuclear weapons testing, and is also present in nuclear wastes; and

Uranium (together with its decay product radium) which is present in nature, and also in some nuclear wastes.

We will use four areas of the UK which contain elevated levels of these radionuclides as our study sites. These are South Terras (an old uranium mine in Cornwall), the Needle's Eye (a uranium mineral vein in SW Scotland), the Esk Estuary in NW England, and offshore sediments in the NE Irish Sea. At these last two sites, the sediments contain elevated levels of radioactivity from authorised Sellafield discharges, mainly in the 1970s.

As well as studying how radioactivity occurs in, and moves through, the soils, waters, plants and (in the offshore sediments) animals, we want to understand the environmental and biological processes which control this movement. To do this, we will do a series of laboratory experiments, looking at the way soil/sediment conditions influence the radionuclide concentrations in solution, the form of the radionuclides in the solution, the way radionuclides are taken up into plants and animals, and the way they are distributed in plant tissues.

We will use the results from our field and laboratory studies to develop and test mathematical models of radionuclide transport and transfer processes. These are important because they allow us to predict behaviour, rather than having to make measurements. These predictive models can be used in assessing environmental impacts, cleaning up contaminated land and predicting the long term impact of radioactive waste disposals.

Planned Impact

The risk of nuclear industry operations is always a major concern. Whether or not these perceptions of risk are justified, they influence the public and decision-makers very heavily. Moreover, there are major uncertainties associated with radioactivity and the environment, which may lead to a very conservative approach to risk. These conservatisms can lead to overestimation of risk, and costly over-engineering of projects. A proportionate understanding of risk in any nuclear programme is therefore essential for public acceptance, political support and proper cost-detriment analysis. Ultimately, the behaviour of radionuclides in the biosphere dictates the radiological risk they represent, and LO-RISE will substantially improve our understanding of this risk, and of conservatisms in risk assessments, so any organisation with responsibilities for assessing or limiting radiological impact will benefit from LO-RISE.

Two distinct groups of beneficiaries can be identified:

1. Government, Industry, and Regulators. Government sets policy for the UK nuclear industry and has clearly stated that the "safety and security of nuclear power is of paramount concern". Our findings will be disseminated both through our project partners and also by LO-RISE academics' involvement in policy and strategy activities, so that LO-RISE will inform and improve policy making. The owners and operators of nuclear licensed sites (NDA, its Site Licence Companies, MOD and its contractors), the implementers of geological disposal (NDA-RWMD); and the nuclear industry regulators (primarily EA in England and Wales, SEPA in Scotland, though ONR may also have an interest), are responsible for delivering Government's policy objectives, and LO-RISE will support development and delivery of Site Lifetime Plans, or equivalent. At the operational level, the nuclear industry relies heavily on a very diverse supply chain. LO-RISE will help these contractors develop and implement improved solutions at the project level, for deployment in the UK and overseas.

2. The Wider Stakeholder Community, and the Public. Even in 'nuclear' communities, new nuclear projects are controversial. This is clearly illustrated by, for example, 'Stop Hinkley' or the controversy around the MRWS process in west Cumbria. Objective research has a vital role in providing trusted information to inform these debates, and LO-RISE will contribute to this through specifically tailored outreach and impact activities.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Improved knowledge of C-14 cycling in the Irish Sea and Scottish Coastal waters. The organic matter in the NE Irish Sea sediments comprises a fraction of the material that is combustible at low temperature and is of a higher activity than the bulk. Further analyses suggests that this comprises carbohydrates and amino acids.
Exploitation Route Provision of a better understanding of the biogeochemical behaviour of C-14 to the nuclear industry.
Sectors Energy,Environment

 
Title Irish Sea and West of Scotland C-14 dataset 
Description All c-14 data for the marine environment:sample type, date of sample collection, sample location, c14 activity and error on measurement.. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Three publications to date, a fourth submitted and a further one in progress. 
 
Description Collaboration on field sampling and fisheries expertise 
Organisation Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute
Department Fisheries and Aquatic Ecosystems
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution None
Collaborator Contribution Collection of fish samples for C-14 analysis
Impact Future publications
Start Year 2015
 
Description Global Ocean Modelling Collaboration 
Organisation University of British Columbia
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration to build an ecological model within Ecopath to model C-14 uptake.
Collaborator Contribution Ongoing support for model development
Impact Model that has been reprogrammed. The parameters are now in the model that are specific for radionuclide dispersion. Model testing is on-going and will lead to a publication on the model specifically on C-14 uptake and distribution in the Irish Sea and West of Scotland marine environment.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Sampling of marine mammal tissue 
Organisation Scotland's Rural College
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Future supply of radionuclide data.
Collaborator Contribution Supply of marine mammal tissue for C14 and I-129 analysis
Impact Manuscript intended for peer reviewed international journal in preparation. Data will be used in ecosystem modelling.
Start Year 2014
 
Description 8th Scottish Symposium on Environmental Analytical Chemistry 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact PhD students whose research is in the area of environmental chemistry present their research to their peers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description COGER Committee Membership 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact G Muir joined the Coordinating Group on Environmental Radioactivity (COGER) as the PDRA representative. The purpose of COGER is to disseminate information to the public and practitioners about radioactivity in the environment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description COGER Conference Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Organisers of the COGER Conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Coordinating Group on Environmental Radioactivity (COGER) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation on the Lo-RISE Marine Workstream results
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Glasgow Explorathon, Glasgow Science Centre, 26th September 2014 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Interactive stall discussing isotopes at the European Commission, European Researchers' Night, Scotland at the Glasgow Science Centre. Intended purpose was to stimulate science in school children.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description IAEA Collaboration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Kieran Tierney spent 3 months in the IAEA Monaco Environment Laboratories to gain experience of radionuclide measurement techniques, gain experience in environmental modelling and present his own research findings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Joint EPSRC Geowaste/NERC RATE Seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Geowaste/NERC RATE Collaborative meeting with nuclear industry and other stakeholders present. The meeting comprised short talks, poster sessions and a role-play session. Discussion on the feasibility and ethics of waste disposal.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Meeting with Food Standards Scotland 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting to share recent research findings and implications for public health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Oral presentation 14C in the Environment conference, Queens University Belfast. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Conference presentation
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description RATE Annual Meeting, Portsmouth 12th April 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact RATE Annual meeting with representation from the three groups. Talks given by SUERC staff to indicate updates in research: "Ecosystem uptake and transfer of Sellafield-derived Radiocarbon (14C) in the UK Marine Environment" and "Modelling Ecosystem Uptake of Radioactive Discharges in Ecopath with Ecosim"
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description RATE Biogeochemistry Meeting, Manchester 29th June 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talks given to the 3 groups within RATE.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description RATE Final Science Meeting, London, 15th - 17th January 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Final meeting of the RATE programme
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Stakeholder Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Communication of NERC/RATE research results to the public or public bodies (e.g. Environment Agency, SEPA, RWM etc.) and other stakeholders.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Stakeholder Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentations by the 3 consortia within the RATE Programme, breakout sessions and discussions regarding future research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016