Environmental remediation refers to reducing radiation exposure from contaminated soil, groundwater or surface water. This is done not only to eliminate radiation sources but to protect people and the environment against potential harmful effects from exposure to ionizing radiation.
In years past, many nuclear activities were developed without any consideration as to what harm will be done to the environment. Nuclear operations were run in situations in which laws and regulations did not exist, or if they were established, they were loosely followed. Similar sites have also been created by nuclear and radiological accidents and non-nuclear industries where human activities have increased the potential for exposure from natural occurring radioactive materials compared to an unaltered state.
Contaminated sites can lead to undesired health effects for local people so appropriate actions must be taken. Remediation of contaminated land, surface or ground water is applied two ways:
- Applying actions to the contamination itself – this can lead to isolation, immobilization or removal of the actual source of radiation
- Evaluating risks related to radiation exposure to people and thinking of ways of breaking the pathways between the radiation source and people. This might lead to evacuation, area isolation or changing land use of the local population’s living habits.
When remediation is involved is important to know that remediation actions need to be justified and optimized – the adopted actions must do more good than harm. Returning a contaminated site to its original state is often not possible. While environmental remediation aims to reduce radiation exposure to protect people, remediated sites can still be used to build housing, factories and other industries.
Remediation usually does not require any urgency and proper planning is an essential aspect of any remediation work in order to reach the optimized end state of the site. The end result is a balance between risks, costs, benefits and remediation viability. These are some issues to be taken into account in the remediation decision process:
- Radiation risk to the population due to the land use (exposure assessment of people to radioactive materials in the site)
- Occupational exposure due to remediation works
- Net benefits of the remediation works to the affected community
- Waste generation from remediation
- Ethical issues (may affect the way people live)
- Financial costs of remediation
- Other non-radiological risks incurred
People who live on or near a contaminated site typically ask if it is safe to live there, who is responsible for the radiation exposure? And who is going to cover the expenses of the remediation works? Without any national policies, liability issues for the remediation are not always addressed and it is unclear which parties are responsible for implementing the remediation. National policy and strategies set up societal values regarding the environment and the population. They should be implemented by a well dimensioned regulatory framework. These regulations define ‘how clean clean is’, the level of site characterization to be accepted before and after the remediation works and the acceptable end state of the site. The overall process should be transparent, communicated to the relevant stakeholders and allow for their participation in the decision making process. Listening to the stakeholders helps during the decision making process and can make up of the immediate affected population and communities, operator and non-governmental organizations.
Key Aspects to Take Into Account:
- A contaminated site may not impose significant health risks to people living on it
- The focus should be on radiation doses and risks that the exposure might post/. Reduction of doses is the ultimate objective of a remediation project
- Returning a site to the conditions before the event that caused the contamination may not be achievable
- The major driver for a remediation project will be less the scientific evidence of eventual health risks but the public’s perception of the project
As sites contaminated by artificial and natural radionuclides or exposure of national origin may shed light on the need for environmental remediation. Remediation can only start after a consensus on the necessity to reduce existing or future exposures to ionizing radiation. A range of different remediation technologies exists but regulators often tend to value proven technologies that are not adequate to achieve the desired goals of the site. Often times further development is needed to sustain the nuclear energy and modern nuclear facilities are designated to take this into account.
BE3 Corp is here for all of your environmental remediation needs. Our employees have experience and expertise in radiation control, radiation safety, health physics and radiation management. If you have questions on development or any phase of your project call us at 716-362-6532 and we will be there to assist you every step of the way.
Article adapted from: https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/18/05/environmental_remediation.pdf