TRansfer - Exposure - Effects (TREE): integrating the science needed to underpin radioactivity assessments for humans and wildlife

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Sch of Earth & Environmental Sciences

Abstract

For all sources of radioactivity, radiological risk assessments are essential for safeguarding human and environmental health. But assessments often have to rely upon simplistic assumptions, such as the use of simple ratios in risk calculations which combine many processes. This pragmatic approach has largely arisen due to the lack of scientific knowledge and/or data in key areas. The resultant uncertainty has been taken into account through conservative approaches to radiological risk assessment which may tend to overestimate risk. Uncertainty arises at all stages of the assessment process from the estimation of transfer to human foodstuffs and wildlife, exposure and risk. Reducing uncertainty is important as it relates directly to scientific credibility, which will always be open to challenge given the highly sensitive nature of radiological risk assessment in society. We propose an integrated, multi-disciplinary, programme to assess and reduce the uncertainty associated with radiological risk assessment to protect human health and the environment. At the same time we will contribute to building the capacity needed to ensure that the UK rebuilds and maintains expertise in environmental radioactivity into the future.
Our project has four major and highly inter-related components to address the key goal of RATE to rebuild UK capacity and make a major contribution to enhancing environmental protection and safeguarding human health.
The first component will study how the biological availability of radionuclides varies in soils over time. We will investigate if short-term measurements (collected in three year controlled experiments) can be used to predict the long-term availability of radionuclides in soils by testing our models in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The second component will apply the concepts of 'phylogeny' and 'ionomics' to characterise radionuclide uptake by plants and other organisms. These approaches, and statistical modelling methods, are increasingly applied to describe uptake of a range of elements in plant nutrition, and we are pioneering their use for studying radionuclide uptake in other organisms and human foods. A particularly exciting aspect of the approach is the possibility to make predictions for any plant or animal. This is of great value as it is impossible to measure uptake for all wildlife, crops and farm animals. The third component of the work will extend our efforts to improve the quantification of radiation exposure and understanding of resultant biological effects by investigating the underlying mechanisms involved. A key aim is to see whether what we know from experiments on animals and plants in the laboratory is a good representation of what happens in the real world: some scientists believe that animals in the natural environment are more susceptible to radiation than laboratory animals: we need to test this to have confidence in our risk assessments. Together these studies will enable us to reduce and better quantify the uncertainties associated with radiological risk assessment.
By training a cohort of PDRA and PhDs our fourth component will help to renew UK capacity in environmental radioactivity by providing trained, experienced researchers who are well networked within the UK and internationally through the contacts of the investigators. Our students will be trained in a wide range of essential skills through their controlled laboratory studies and working in contaminated environments. They will benefit from being a member of a multidisciplinary team and opportunities to take placements with our beneficiaries and extensive range of project partners.
The outputs of the project will benefit governmental and non-governmental organisations with responsibility for assessing the risks to humans and wildlife posed by environmental radioactivity. It will also make a major contribution to improved scientific and public confidence in the outcomes of environmental safety assessments.

Planned Impact

Nuclear new-build and waste disposal require rigorous safety assessments of effects on the biosphere and human health to underpin decisions which often involve public consultation. The credibility of scientific evidence is open to challenge given the sensitive nature of radiological risk assessment. The publicity (www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-10819027) associated with scientific dispute on the environmental effects of radiation hinders informed debate on nuclear issues and will impinge upon the economic competitiveness of the UK by delaying decisions on future energy supplies and disposal. Unbiased scientific opinion, based on rigorous research, and demonstration of fitness for purpose of assessment approaches will aid debate in the UK and overseas thereby directly supporting the public, regulators and industry.
This project addresses 4 of the 5 priority areas identified by the RATE programme ensuring we will make major contributions to the programme's objectives. We will produce capacity that will benefit the RCUK Energy Plan whilst producing innovative, excellent science that will also underpin the commercial sector.
The consortium partners represent a significant proportion of current UK capability in the key radioecological fields identified by RATE. As part of the project, 4 PDRAs and a cohort of 7 PhD students with the skills to build on this capacity will be trained, enhancing the UK research capability and providing skilled practitioners for industry/regulators. Our summer school at Chernobyl and training programme will be open to PhD students from all RATE consortia, the European STAR radioecology Network of Excellence and our project partners.
NDA and EA will benefit from reduced uncertainty in wildlife and human assessment models. Key radionuclides identified in geological repositories assessments are the focus of soil-plant biogeochemical studies and development of phylogenetic models to predict activity concentrations in wildlife and human foodchain models. New data and phylogenetic-ionomic models will significantly improve transfer models for Reference Animals and Plants (RAPs). They also have the potential to identify suitable surrogates for protected species for environmental monitoring and to be applicable to human and environmental assessment.
In particular EA will also benefit from the effects data obtained for some RAPs which will help fitness-for-purpose assessment of the ICRP's Derived Consideration Reference Levels. An improved understanding of biological effect mechanisms of radiation will be gained including the evaluation of trans-generation effects and how this may impact on populations. These outputs will feed into the derivation of robust, scientifically defensible numeric criteria for use in wildlife dose assessments at an international level and will expand basic knowledge on chronic low level radiation effects.
SEPA will benefit from improved approaches and reduced/quantified uncertainties for environmental and human foodchain assessments. Equivalent overseas agencies will similarly benefit through our input to key international organisations. For instance, the IAEA and ICRP who provide the guidance and recommendations on radiation protection used to define regulation at European and national levels. International guidance for ensuring the environment is protected from releases of radioactive substances is still developing and the outputs from TREE will provide key inputs. Close engagement of consortium members with national and international agencies and other beneficiaries will ensure that impacts will be realised immediately. Benefits will continue to be realised, and project outputs exploited, as international organisations and national regulators develop recommendations and decisions are made on nuclear related issues using the improved knowledge from this project.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Numbers of wild mammals (including wolf, lynx, roe deer, wild boar) were not affected by radiation in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Population densities of wild mammals were similar to other nature reserves in the region. Studies of fish living in lakes around Chernobyl showed some effects of radiation on reproduction in the most contaminated lakes, but not sufficient to have a significant impact on fish populations. Studies of aquatic invertebrates showed no evidence of developmental or reproductive effects at Chernobyl.
Exploitation Route The findings received extensive Worldwide media coverage. Supported the work of an International Union of Radioecology workshop on effects of radiation on wildlife, Miami, 2015, the results of which are being used by international radiation protection organisations. Findings will support regulation of nuclear new build and radioactive waste disposal in the UK and worldwide.
Sectors Energy,Environment

 
Description Extensive Worldwide media coverage; audience > 100 million. Ongoing knowledge transfer to Environment Agency and Radioactive Waste Management.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description DIAMOND Synchrotron Beamtime
Amount £54,000 (GBP)
Funding ID SM17075-1 
Organisation STFC Laboratories 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2018 
End 03/2018
 
Description Environmental Radioactivity Network Small Projects
Amount £19,760 (GBP)
Organisation Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2017
 
Description NERC Innovation Follow on Fund
Amount £100,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R009619/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2017 
End 04/2019
 
Description NERC Metabolomics Birmingham
Amount £33,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 04/2019
 
Title Bird Vocalisation Activity (BiVA) database: annotated soundscapes from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone 
Description Data comprise audio files captured using a Wildlife Acoustics SM3 Songmeter located on an overgrown unpaved road close to several abandoned houses with deciduous trees (including fruit trees in former gardens) in the abandoned village of Buryakovka in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine. A single continuous recording of twelve hours of audio from midday until midnight on the 25th June 2015 was manually annotated by an expert (using Raven Pro interactive sound analysis software). The dataset comprises the resultant five wave files (stereo .wav sampled at 48 kHz) and five annotation files (text files with the same name as the associated wave file). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Effects of low-dose ionising radiation on reproduction and DNA damage in marine and freshwater amphipod crustaceans 
Description Data comprise results of laboratory experiments assessing the impacts of beta radiation (phosphorus-32) on reproduction, development and DNA damage in a marine and freshwater crustacean species. All crustacean samples were collected either from Lock Lake, Portsmouth (marine crustacean Echinogammarus marinus) or from the River Ems, Emsworth (freshwater crustacean, Gammarus pulex). Laboratory experiments were conducted periodically from summer 2015 to autumn 2016 at the University of Portsmouth. The data are of use in elucidating the mechanisms and effects of low-dose ionising radiation on an important group of model organisms in radioecology. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Water chemistry of seven lakes in Belarus and Ukraine 2014 to 2016 
Description Data comprise water chemistry measurements (major alkali and alkali-earth element water concentrations and trace element concentrations) recorded over two years at seven lakes in Belarus and Ukraine at distances from 1.5 to 225 km of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (CNPP). The lakes include Glubokoye, Yanovsky lakes and Cooling Pond (high (H) contaminated lakes), Svyatoye Lake (medium (M) contaminated lake) and Stoyacheye, Dvoriche and Gorova lakes (low (L) contaminated lakes). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Description A Pint of Science - Portsmouth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk at "Pint of Science" event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Article on the impact of Chernobyl on wildlife 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article for "Project Syndicate" published in 13 newspapers and magazines worldwide including China Daily, The Korea Times, Times of Oman, Arab News.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2016-01/11/content_23251313.htm
 
Description Coverage of research in NETFLIX "Our Planet" documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Supported production of "Our Planet" documentary and our research finding was discussed by Sir David Attenborough in an episode of the documentary covering impact of Chernobyl on wildlife.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Geological Society (Portsmouth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Presentation to regional geological society
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Interview for Animal Planet Documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Inteview with Adelaide Lerebours (postdoc) for documentary broadcast on Animal Planet
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Interview for National Public Radio, U.S.A. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview on "Living on Earth" for U.S. National Public Radio.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=16-P13-00018&segmentID=4
 
Description Interview for New Scientist magazine 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Interview for feature article in New Scientist
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Interviews for Der Spiegel, BBC Earth, Spektrum (Germany), Semana (Latin America), Korber-Stiftung (Germany), Publico (Portugal), FOCUS on 30th Anniversary of Chernobyl 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media interviews on the 30th Anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Media interviews/press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Press release on paper and Science Media Centre media briefing which led to coverage by hundreds of media outlets worldwide including CNN, BBC, Sky News, US National Public Radio, Canadian National Radio, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, New Scientist, National Geographic, Washington Post, Le Figaro, El Pais, China Daily and many more. Audience reach greater than 100 million.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2015/10/07/chernobyl-wildlife-growth-james-smith-intv.cnn
 
Description Participation in IAEA working group advising Fukushima Prefecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact International Atomic Energy Agency expert group advising Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on remediation and monitoring of the radioactively contaminated areas.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Radio Interview Talk Radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview on "The Unexplained", Talk Radio
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016