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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Earth Atmospheric and Env Sciences

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 1. We have developed a quantitative model of carbon-14 transfer through marine food chains. As the principal radionuclide discharged to the Irish Sea, which is readily transferred into living organisms, this will help provide confidence that these discharges do not have any significant radiological impact in the ecosystem.

2. We have identified an ability of organic matter in soils and sediments to trap uranium without the well-known chemical reduction, which inhibits its uptake into plant roots. We have also identified physiological mechanisms by whch plants limit transfer of uranium and radium into above-ground tissues.
Exploitation Route The findings should be usable by industry and regulators in the nuclear sector
Sectors Energy,Environment

 
Description Safety cases for contaminated land management and radioactive waste disposal. Regulation of these activities
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership Nuclear Sector Panel
Geographic Reach Local/Municipal/Regional 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Member, Nuclear Innovation & Research Advisory Board
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Non Executive Director of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/news/professor-francis-livens-to-join-the-nda-board
 
Description Nuclear Advisory Committees
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Participation in a number of Government advisory committees, principally- Deputy chair, Committee on Radioactive Waste Management Member, Scientific Advice to Government in Emergencies (SAGE) group Member, Cabinet Office Scientific Advisory Committee on High Impact Threats Member, Scientific Advisory Committee, Government Decontamination Service Member, ad hoc Nuclear R&D Advisory Board Co-Author, Nuclear R&D Roadmap
URL https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/committee-on-radioactive-waste-management
 
Description BBC RADIO 4: File on Four: The Nuclear Option - Powering the Future and Cleaning Up the Past 
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 File on Four
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09byv6k
 
Description BBC TV interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact BBC NORTH WEST TONIGHT: Sellafield decommisioning
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bptlk1
 
Description Blogs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The PG students run a nuclear blog, to which academics contribute. Academics also contribute to the policy@manchester blogs (https://www.policy.manchester.ac.uk/blogs/)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016,2017
URL https://ngnstudents.org/category/outreach/
 
Description Interview for national newspaper 
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 THE GUARDIAN: Fate of UK's nuclear plants in doubt over ageing infrastructure 3 Feb 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/03/fate-of-uks-nuclear-power-stations-in-doubt-over...
 
Description MAIL ONLINE: Radioactive waste from 43 nuclear explosions is LEAKING into the Pacific because a reinforced concrete dome built by the US military on an island to store it is disappearing under the sea 
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 Press interview
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5340465/Concrete-dome-holding-radioactive-waste-LEAKING.html
 
Description Public Debates 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three public debates on nuclear energy
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.discuss.org.uk/discussion/nuclear-power-yes-please/
 
Description Public events 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Regular nuclear power exhibitions, designed and delivered by students and PDRAs, held annually at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017
URL https://ngnstudents.org/category/outreach/