Monday, March 30, 2009

Nuclear Regulators to Review Environmental Modelling for Radiation Safety

While this is not a brand-new article, it was sent to us just today by a reader. It seems pertinent. Thus we are publishing it.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Published Jan. 26, 2009

Issues of radiation safety and environmental protection go hand in hand. At the IAEA last week, experts from 40 countries examined the transfer of radionuclides to plant and animal life, to improve how risks are assessed and ultimately reduced. 'All nuclear facilities and uranium mines, in their day-to-day activities, release some amount of radioactive effluents into the environment, transferring to the food chain, the air you breathe or to the water you drink,' says Didier Louvat, Head of the IAEA´s Waste and Environmental Safety Section. ”Of course, before governments give authorisation for a nuclear power plant to operate or for mining to take place, they have to assess the risk these releases can pose to the public and to the environment.'

The IAEA has been working with nuclear safety organizations from various countries for decades to streamline the way such risks are assessed. It regularly hosts sessions through a programme called Environmental Modelling for Radiation Safety (EMRAS). It builds on work that began shortly after the 1986 Chernobyl accident, which released radionuclides over large areas of the former Soviet Union and Europe, and prompted a reassessment of the way risks associated with nuclear facilities are determined.

Environmental modelling involves a series of complicated mathematical calculations designed to forecast the effect that various events will have on particular environments and organisms living in those environments. For example, modelling is used to predict weather patterns on earth and in space. And when it comes to radiation safety, environmental models determine the likely effect that releases of radionuclides from nuclear facilities and uranium mines will have on the public, on plants and animals as well as on the land, sea and air.

The latest EMRAS meetings, which began 19 January 2009, with 110 participants from 40 countries at the IAEA´s Vienna Headquarters, will result in further harmonization on modelling radionuclide transfer to the environment. 'The overall objective of the EMRAS programme is to help states build up their national capabilities to model the movements of radionuclides in the environment,' explains Mr. Louvat. 'In that way, they can better assess exposure levels of the public, plants and animals to ensure the right level of protection from harmful effects of ionizing radiation.' To date, EMRAS has also focused on accident assessments, waste management and disposal, and uranium mining activities.

'EMRAS meetings attract many people,' says Mr. Louvat, 'because it’s one of the most effective opportunities they have to check the validity of the assessment models they use every day in their countries.'

At these gatherings nuclear safety assessors test their models with different scenarios, compare results and eventually refine their mathematical calculations to better estimate the true impact of radionuclide releases. 'The importance of a harmonised approach is that, if you have nuclear facilities bordering other countries, then it is important that assessments made in one country are compatible with assessment methods in the other country,' he says.

Already produced and published is a safety guide on the control of radioactive discharges from nuclear facilities, technical reports, and other guidance. It includes a generic model that any country can use to assess the probable impact of nuclear-related activities. And it also includes technical reports on how transfer parameters are used to assess the impacts on land and on the marine environment.

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