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Methodology for the investigation of undeclared atmospheric releases of radionuclides: Application to recent radionuclide detections in Northern Europe from 2019 to 2022

  • Saunier, Olivier
  • Hoffman, Ian
  • Mekarski, Pawel
  • Yi, Jing
  • Botti, Adrian
Publication Date
Nov 01, 2023
DOI: 10.1016/j.anucene.2023.109907
OAI: oai:HAL:irsn-04119406v1
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Traces of radionuclides have been frequently detected in the European atmosphere for several years. The measured concentrations are usually very low, ranging from 0.1 to 10 μBq m-3, and do not pose any health or environmental problems. This study aims to diagnose the origin of small undeclared radionuclide releases into the atmosphere. An inverse modelling approach that combines environmental measurements and atmospheric transport modelling is first used to assess the source location of the release. In addition, the type and process of the nuclear facility from which the release could originate are investigated by identifying the isotope production pathways and comparing them with known typical inventories. These two parts of the proposed method are complementary and allow us to extract as much information as possible from a set of radionuclide measurement data.In a previous study, the origins of detections of various radionuclides (60Co, 134Cs, 137Cs, 103Ru, 106Ru, 141Ce, 95Nb, 95Zr) in Finland, Sweden and Estonia in June 2020 have been investigated. In this paper, the previous investigation is extended by analysing two additional events that occurred in northern Europe in July 2019 and May 2022, as well an overview of other unknown releases detected in Finland over the last decade. A more detailed analysis of the 2020 event is also provided by analysing new available environmental measurements. The calculations indicate that the source location of the three events appears to be in the same region, in Russian Federation. The most probable origin of the June 2020 release seems to be a primary ion exchange resin, after 2 to 5 months of decay, of a pressurized water reactor with fuel cladding failure, and dispersion of fissile material in the primary.The July 2019 and May 2022 events are of particularly noteworthy due to the simultaneous presence of 46Sc, which is neither produced nor in the fuel, nor in the primary loop of PWR or RBMK nuclear power plants, and typical corrosion-activated products from power plants (60Co). Two hypotheses are proposed to explain this source term: a mixture of various solid wastes or recently irradiated graphite from a RBMK reactor. The reliability of the methodology is demonstrated, in particular in the section dedicated to atmospheric transport modelling, and the successful association with source term analysis provides a valuable tool for future studies and assessments of both minor and major radionuclide releases.

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