Published on November 23, 2007
Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience: Environmental Consequences of the Chernobyl Accident and their Remediation: Twenty Years of Experience Presentation to the International Conference Chernobyl: Looking Back to Go Forwards. 6 September 2005 Lynn R. Anspaugh On behalf of 35 Scientists Many persons participated in the preparation of our report. These included: Many persons participated in the preparation of our report. These included Persons from the three more affected countries of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. Scientists from other countries who had experience either in their own country or who had worked jointly with scientists from the three more affected countries. Members of the UN organizations. International Union of Radioecology. Method of operation: Method of operation Seven meetings Usually general with work being done in subgroups. Some meetings were topical. Sections of the report were written during the meetings and circulated to all participants. Method of operation (concluded): Method of operation (concluded) This is a consensus document. Drafts were circulated to participants. There were no strong disagreements. The document is based upon 18+ years of experience. As far as possible we have relied upon peer-reviewed publications. Our report is long and detailed.: Our report is long and detailed. The presentation will follow these topics: Radioactive contamination of the environment Environmental countermeasures and remediation Human exposure levels Radiation-induced effects on plants and animals Presentation (concluded): Presentation (concluded) Environmental aspects of dismantlement of the Shelter and radioactive waste management Conclusions The releases of radionuclides were large.: The releases of radionuclides were large. Releases (concluded): Releases (concluded) Releases were in the form of : Releases were in the form of Gases, Condensed particles, and Fuel particles. The release of fuel particles is estimated to be 1.5% of the original contents. Most of the fuel particles were deposited within a few 10s of km. The radioactive cloud: The radioactive cloud Went to high altitudes. Was detected throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Resulted in substantial depositions as far away as the United Kingdom. Radionuclides of primary concern: Radionuclides of primary concern 131I 137Cs 134Cs Many other radionuclides have been measured. Of long-term interest close in are 239+240Pu. 241Am is the only radionuclide that is increasing with time due to decay of 241Pu. Example air concentrations of 137Cs: Example air concentrations of 137Cs A provisional level of “minimum contamination” was chosen.: A provisional level of “minimum contamination” was chosen. 137Cs at 37 kBq m-2 (1 Ci km-2) Easily measured 10 times the level from global fallout Radiologically significant A rule of thumb is that dose from this deposition density would be about 1 mSv (0.1 rem) without countermeasures during the first year. Because the release took place over several days during many weather conditions: Because the release took place over several days during many weather conditions Contamination was widespread and in many directions. Heavy deposits outside the near zone typically occurred during rainfall. Some “hotspots” occurred at far locations. The mixture of radionuclides was not the same everywhere. Ground depositions of 137Cs: Ground depositions of 137Cs Ground depositions of 137Cs: Ground depositions of 137Cs Areas (km2) contaminated at>37 kBq m-2 (>1Ci km-2): Areas (km2) contaminated at >37 kBq m-2 (>1Ci km-2) Russian Federation 57,900 Belarus 46,500 Ukraine 41,900 Sweden 12,000 Finland 11,500 Austria 8,600 Norway 5,200 Bulgaria 4,800 Switzerland 1,300 Greece 1,200 Slovenia 300 Italy 300 Republic of Moldava 60 More than 5 million persons lived in the areas considered to be radioactively contaminated in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.: More than 5 million persons lived in the areas considered to be radioactively contaminated in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. Behaviour of deposited radionuclides: Behaviour of deposited radionuclides Radionuclides deposited on virgin land or lawns will stay there, but will migrate slowly into deeper layers of soil. Radionuclides deposited on other surfaces (roofs, asphalt, trees, bushes, etc.) tend to weather away. A large fraction of deposited radionuclides in urban areas will end up in storm drains. Behaviour of radionuclides in terrestrial ecosystems: Behaviour of radionuclides in terrestrial ecosystems Important pathways to man in terrestrial ecosystems: Important pathways to man in terrestrial ecosystems External gamma exposure due to the presence of radionuclides on soil and other surfaces. Direct deposition on plant surfaces. The uptake of radionuclides from soil by plants. This pathway varies markedly with radionuclide mobility and soil characteristics. This mechanism is important for the radiocaesiums. The important pathway for radioiodines is: The important pathway for radioiodines is Direct deposition on food to be consumed by milk-producing animals or by humans. The half lives of radioiodines are too short for uptake from soil to plants to occur in a significant way. Radioiodines are a major concern only during early periods. Milk-producing animals concentrate radioiodines in milk and humans concentrate radioiodines in the thyroid. Normalized concentration of 131I in milk in Tula Oblast: Normalized concentration of 131I in milk in Tula Oblast The pathways of radiocaesiums are more complicated.: The pathways of radiocaesiums are more complicated. Direct deposition on forage to be consumed by milk- or meat-producing animals is also important. The uptake by plants from soil is important. This leads to contamination of Plants Milk Meat Concentration of 137Cs in milk from France: Concentration of 137Cs in milk from France 137Cs moves into the soil column: 137Cs moves into the soil column Transfer from soil to plant can be quantified by a Transfer Factor.: Transfer from soil to plant can be quantified by a Transfer Factor. or 137Cs transfer factors measured in Belarus: 137Cs transfer factors measured in Belarus Change with time of 137Cs content in plants in Bryansk Oblast: Change with time of 137Cs content in plants in Bryansk Oblast Changes with time of 137Cs concentration in Bryansk Oblast: Changes with time of 137Cs concentration in Bryansk Oblast The current situation for 137Cs: The current situation for 137Cs Levels in most agricultural products are below national action levels (typically 100 Bq kg-1). In limited areas of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine milk is above national action levels. Private milk was being produced above action levels 15 y post accident in 400, 200, and 100 settlements of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, respectively. Forest ecosystems are unique.: Forest ecosystems are unique. Radionuclide cycling is rather different. Some trees are about as sensitive to the lethal effects of radiation as are humans. (The Red Forest, for example.) Some plants (e.g., mushrooms and berries) are very efficient at uptake of 137Cs, and this varies with season and weather. Animals that eat such plants can accumulate substantial amounts of 137Cs. Wood ash can have elevated levels. 137Cs concentration in mushrooms in Zhitomir Oblast: 137Cs concentration in mushrooms in Zhitomir Oblast 137Cs concentration in moose in one hunting area in Sweden: 137Cs concentration in moose in one hunting area in Sweden Rivers can be contaminated by: Rivers can be contaminated by Direct deposition and Run off from the catchment area. Dilution is rapid 137Cs rapidly attaches to sediments, but can be remobilized. Concentration in the Pripyat River: Concentration in the Pripyat River Contamination of “closed” lakes is a larger problem.: Contamination of “closed” lakes is a larger problem. “Closed” lakes have little or no outflow or inflow, except from runoff. The nature of the bed sediments is an important determinant of the level of contamination in surface water. Predatory fish in some lakes can accumulate appreciable amounts of 137Cs. 137Cs concentrations with time in Lake Vorsee, Germany: 137Cs concentrations with time in Lake Vorsee, Germany The Chernobyl Cooling Pond: The Chernobyl Cooling Pond Covers an area of 23 km2 and contains about 150 million m3 of water, Contains about 200 TBq of activity of which 137Cs is 80% and Sr 10%, and Is a source of 90Sr to the Pripyat River via groundwater flow. This is only a few per cent of the total flux to the River. The concentration of radionuclides in the Pond are currently low. Concentration with time of 137Cs and 90Sr in the Chernobyl Cooling Pond: Concentration with time of 137Cs and 90Sr in the Chernobyl Cooling Pond The reservoirs of the Dnieper Cascade: The reservoirs of the Dnieper Cascade Are an important source of drinking and irrigation water for a large number of people, and Have been monitored carefully. Concentration with time of 137Cs in two reservoirs of the Dnieper Cascade.: Concentration with time of 137Cs in two reservoirs of the Dnieper Cascade. Groundwater: Groundwater Contamination in groundwater has been investigated extensively. There are areas of significant contamination near waste-disposal sites and the industrial site at the ChNPP. Movement of radionuclides to the Pripyat River is very slow, and is not considered to be a significant problem. There is no concern for off-site areas. Environmental Countermeasures and Remediation: Environmental Countermeasures and Remediation Slide47: A full range of countermeasures has been applied in order to protect the public from radiation. These varied from urgent evacuation to long-term monitoring of food supplies. The ecosystems to which countermeasures have been applied are urban, agricultural, forest, and aquatic. Countermeasures are not without negative consequences, so justification has been an important consideration. Radiation protection criteria have changed markedly since the accident.: Radiation protection criteria have changed markedly since the accident. In general, radiation-protection criteria have been reduced by approximately a factor of 10 since the accident. Temporary permissible levels (TPLs) for radionuclide content in food went from a goal of <50 mSv (5 rem) per year to <5 mSv (0.5 rem) per year in the USSR. The general level of radiation protection is now <1 mSv (0.1 rem) per year. Current radiation-protection criteria for radiocaesium in foods, Bq kg-1: Current radiation-protection criteria for radiocaesium in foods, Bq kg-1 Urban dose-rate reduction factors (DRRFs): Urban dose-rate reduction factors (DRRFs) Early agricultural countermeasures: Early agricultural countermeasures Early goal was to reduce the consumption of milk contaminated with 131I. Exclusion of animals’ diet of contaminated pasture. Interdiction of contaminated milk. Later goal was to reduce the consumption of milk and meat contaminated with radiocaesiums. The early focus was on collective farms. Early agricultural countermeasures (concluded): Early agricultural countermeasures (concluded) Banning of cattle slaughter until they had received clean feed for 1.5 months. Restriction on the consumption of milk from private farms. Obligatory radiological monitoring of milk. Obligatory milk processing. Removal of agricultural soil was not a practical measure. Later agricultural countermeasures: Later agricultural countermeasures Relocation of people and their animals. Radical treatment of soil Fertilizer and lime application Deep ploughing Change in crops grown to those with lower uptake of radiocaesium. Clean feeding of animals before slaughter and “live monitoring” have been important. Comparative uptake of 137Cs by crops measured in Belarus: Comparative uptake of 137Cs by crops measured in Belarus Administration of caesium binders: Administration of caesium binders Hexacyanoferrate compounds (commonly referred to a “Prussian Blue”) administered to animals can reduce the concentration of 137Cs by up to tenfold. Can be applied in a variety of ways including salt licks, powder mixed with feed, and as boli. Clay mineral binders have been used in Ukraine. Current situation on agricultural countermeasures: Current situation on agricultural countermeasures Clean feeding continues in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine and in countries in Western Europe. Continued use of high potassium fertilisers. Diversion of contaminated milk to other uses. Use of caesium binders. Abandoned land is being returned to use. Forest countermeasures: Forest countermeasures It is nearly impossible to manipulate forests, although there have been a few attempts. Countermeasures have largely been limited to Restricted access to humans and animals, Ban on gathering mushrooms and berries, Ban on collection of firewood, Control on hunting wild game, and Treatment of grazing animals with binders. Aquatic countermeasures for drinking water: Aquatic countermeasures for drinking water Change to less contaminated rivers or groundwater supplies Special filtration during treatment Control of runoff Manipulation of flow Sediment traps were not effective Zeolite containing dykes were not effective Aquatic countermeasures for fish: Aquatic countermeasures for fish Ban on consumption Selective ban on consumption Attempts to treat lake water with the goal of reducing radiocaesium in fish have not been very successful. A temporary threefold reduction was noted in Belarus with the application of potassium chloride to a frozen lake. Altered food-preparation techniques Human Exposure Levels: Human Exposure Levels Focus of our document: Focus of our document Members of the general public exposed as a result of radionuclides deposited in the environment. Our data emphasise collective rather than individual dose. We did not consider dose to workers. Individual doses are considered in the health-effects report. Pathways of dose to man: Pathways of dose to man Radiation dose from Chernobyl has decreased with time: Radiation dose from Chernobyl has decreased with time Decay of short-lived radionuclides (e.g., 131I) Movement of radionuclides into the soil column (e.g., 137Cs) Binding to soil particles—a process that can reduce uptake to plants (e.g., 137Cs) We speak of ecological half lives for non-radioactive decay processes. Two component processes are typical Countermeasures Critical groups: Critical groups The concept of critical groups has been used traditionally in radiation protection. These persons may have a twofold or even larger than average exposure Who are they? Persons spending much time outdoors Persons consuming large amounts of mushrooms and other ‘wild’ foods Infants drinking milk from goats Determination of external dose: Determination of external dose Description of the external gamma-radiation field over undisturbed soil. Can be calculated from deposition of radionuclides or can be measured. Human behaviour, including a description of how external exposure is modified by shielding in homes, etc. Dose-conversion factors to describe dose to an organ compared to measured or calculated dose in air. Reduction of external dose rate due to “ecological” decay: Reduction of external dose rate due to “ecological” decay Location factors: Location factors Consideration of location factors (occupancy, shielding, etc.) typically reduce calculated doses by a factor or two or more. There have been thousands of measurements by thermoluminescent dosimeters worn by members of the public. Projected external dose for 70 y following the accident: Projected external dose for 70 y following the accident 30% accumulated during the first year 70% accumulated during the first 15 y Examples of average normalized effective external dose for adults in the intermediate zone: Examples of average normalized effective external dose for adults in the intermediate zone Model for internal dose: Model for internal dose Model for internal dose (concluded): Model for internal dose (concluded) Food-consumption rates are taken from special surveys or from the literature. Dose-conversion factors are taken from the publications of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. Specific activities in foods are based on measurements or on ground depositions. Calculations are confirmed by whole body counts for radiocaesiums or thyroid counts for radioiodines. Estimates of thyroid doses in Ukraine based on measurements: Estimates of thyroid doses in Ukraine based on measurements Projections: Projections All dose from radioiodines has been delivered. Radiocaesiums continue to deliver dose, but at a decreasing rate due to decay and ecological loss (binding of 137Cs so that it is not available for uptake to plants). Examples of average effective internal dose for adults in the intermediate zone: Examples of average effective internal dose for adults in the intermediate zone Annual (2001) mean dose to adult residents of areas >1 Ci km-2. Doses are in mSv per year.: Annual (2001) mean dose to adult residents of areas >1 Ci km-2. Doses are in mSv per year. An example of dose contribution by pathway for a member of the critical group in Svetilovichi, Belarus: An example of dose contribution by pathway for a member of the critical group in Svetilovichi, Belarus Estimates of collective thyroid dose in the three more affected countries: Estimates of collective thyroid dose in the three more affected countries Estimated collective effective doses, 1986-2005: Estimated collective effective doses, 1986-2005 Projected 70-y dose from consumption of water from the Dnieper Cascade: Projected 70-y dose from consumption of water from the Dnieper Cascade Projection is for a population of 32.5 million persons The additional dose to these persons over 70 years is 3,000 man-Sv. Most of the dose is due to consumption of 90Sr. Radiation-Induced Effects on Plants and Animals: Radiation-Induced Effects on Plants and Animals Acute dose ranges to produce 100% lethality in taxonomic groups: Acute dose ranges to produce 100% lethality in taxonomic groups General threshold values for significant detrimental population-level effects: General threshold values for significant detrimental population-level effects To terrestrial and aquatic plant populations, and aquatic animal populations— 10 mGy per day. To terrestrial animal populations— 1 mGy per day. Effects on plants and animals have been observed inthe 30-km zone: Effects on plants and animals have been observed in the 30-km zone The dose received depends upon the ecololgical niche—consideration of location and uptake of radionuclides. Effects depend on the radiosensitivity of the species. Measured exposure rates on26 April near the reactor. Values are in R h-1 (1 R h-1 0.2 Gy day-1): Measured exposure rates on 26 April near the reactor. Values are in R h-1 (1 R h-1 0.2 Gy day-1) Effects can be considered to have occurred in three phases: Effects can be considered to have occurred in three phases Acute phase during first 20 days. Large doses that measurably impacted biota. High exposures to animal thyroids also occurred. Summer and Autumn 1986. Dose rates declined to about 10% of the original, but doses were still high enough to produce effects. Later and continuing. Effects are less and there is compensation by migration. Beta dose is very important for many species.: Beta dose is very important for many species. In general, about 80% of the total radiation dose accumulated by plants and animals occurred within three months. 95% of the total dose was due to beta radiation. Effects on plants: Effects on plants In April plants were vulnerable, as they were in phases of accelerated growth and reproduction. Within the 30-km zone effects were seen of short-term sterility and reduction in productivity. Pine forests in the near vicinity received very high doses (>80 Gy) and were killed. Effects on invertebrates: Effects on invertebrates Numbers of invertebrates and species composition were impacted within 3 to 7 km from the reactor. Doses were in the range of 30 Gy. Effects on mammals: Effects on mammals Most domestic animals were evacuated, but several hundred were maintained in the 30-km zone. Radiation dose to thyroids of cattle was sufficient to produce measurable effects. Some animals died. Reproductive failures occurred, and some offspring were effected. No increase in teratogenetic effects. Other effects: Other effects No effect on birds was noted. The number of small rodents on some plots decreased by a factor of two to ten. Estimates of gamma dose varied from 23 to 110 Gy. The numbers of small rodents were recovering by Spring 1987. Genetic effects: Genetic effects Somatic and genetic mutations have been reported in plants and rodents. Total doses were as high as 3-4 Gy per month. There are controversial reports on increased mutation frequencies in repeat DNA sequences termed ‘minisatellite loci.’ The meaning, if any, of this is currently unknown. Secondary effects: Secondary effects The current dominant effect on plants and animals is the absence of the human population. The ecosystem has changed as a result of the loss of pine trees, in migration of new individuals, and the absence of the human pressure. Environmental Aspects of Dismantlement of the Shelter and Radioactive Waste Management: Environmental Aspects of Dismantlement of the Shelter and Radioactive Waste Management So far this talk has focused on material that got out of the reactor: So far this talk has focused on material that got out of the reactor Most of the fuel (180 t of uranium) lies in the reactor. There are two prominent nagging problems: The Shelter Proper disposal of wastes The Shelter: The Shelter Was erected in a short time period between May and November 1986 under conditions of severe radiation exposure to the workers. Rests on portions of the original reactor of uncertain stability. Has 1000 m2 of openings through which about 2000 m3 y-1 of precipitation enters. Further flooding might lead to criticality, but this is considered unlikely. There are large amounts of dust inside. There are concerns that the Shelter might collapse.: There are concerns that the Shelter might collapse. This would complicate further recovery efforts. Collapse might lead to the release of 500 to 2000 kg of dust containing 8 to 50 kg of dispersed nuclear fuel. This material, if released, would be deposited within the 30-km zone. There are plans to build a New Safe Confinement (NSC): There are plans to build a New Safe Confinement (NSC) The NSC should allow for: The NSC should allow for Dismantlement of the old Shelter, Removal of fuel-containing material (FCM) from the reactor, Eventual decommissioning of the reactor, and Decrease of environmental impacts. Removal of the FCM depends upon the establishment of a geologic disposal facility. Waste-management issues: Waste-management issues As part of the past remediation efforts, large amounts of radioactive waste were created and placed in temporary near-surface facilities in the Exclusion Zone. These waste storage sites do not meet contemporary safety requirements. Documentation of the wastes disposed was not a matter of priority at the time. New wastes would be created by the construction of the NSC and the dismantling of Reactor No. 4. Current conditions are not urgent from a public exposure view.: Current conditions are not urgent from a public exposure view. Some sites are flooded and represent a minor source of contamination of ground and surface water in the nearby areas. Current calculations do not indicate any meaningful exposure pathway for the public. Institutional controls are currently adequate, but may not be over the long term. A comprehensive strategy for waste-management is needed.: A comprehensive strategy for waste-management is needed. Some material from dismantlement should be placed in a geologic repository. Should existing sites be remediated? This would be costly in terms of money and exposure to workers.