Remote and real-time optical detection of
alpha-emitting radionuclides in the environment

Impact on industrial and other user communities

The wider long-term impact of this project is to allow for a rapid, coordinated and effective response in emergency situations involving dispersion of alpha emitting radionuclides in the environment. Novel instrumentation developed in this project is essential for a quick and adequate response by nuclear regulatory bodies and other decision makers (e.g. local authorities or aid organisations) both during and in the aftermath of a nuclear or radiological accident by providing reliable radiological data that will allow appropriate countermeasures and reduce the risk of exaggerated actions and preventable follow-up costs. The novel mobile detector system for the remote detection of alpha-emitting radionuclides in the environment has the opportunity to be licensed to instrumentation companies. Moreover, wit h its optimised optical system and filtering setup, this instrument has a huge potential as a remote alpha particle monitor in the nuclear industry sector.

Impact on the metrology and scientific communities

A calibration facility and a metrological basis to support the implementation of new technologies for radiological emergency management will be established. This includes the development of a fit-for purpose, state of the art portable radiant standard and calibrated and well characterised alpha active environmental samples (mineral phase, organic, soil and plant). The characteristic limits (minimum detectable activities and largest standoff distances) for remote alpha detection will also be determined. Furthermore, models for the substrate dependent generation and optical path propagation of the alpha particle induced radioluminescence will be developed. The latter are of crucial importance to perform precise quantitative measurements and for applying accurate corrections to the deduced activities. These corrections include the influence of wind, which reflects changes in the nitrogen density that consequently affects the number of radioluminescence photons and, the influence of smoke and dust which change the refractive index of the medium where radioluminescence light is propagating.

Impact on relevant standards

The project will provide guidance for stakeholders and input to international standardisation bodies (ISO, IEC), as far as nuclear and radiological emergency preparedness is concerned. The project will help to fulfil the IAEA requirements listed in the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident and in the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency of the European Commission.

Members of the consortium are involved in the following committees: ISO/TC85 (Nuclear Energy), IEC/TC45 (Nuclear Instrumentation), EURAMET TCIR (Technical Committee for Ionising Radiation), ICRM (Gamma and Beta Spectrometry WG, Alpha Spectrometry WG and Low Level WG), BIPM CCRI I and II, and EURADOS WG 3. This will ensure that the harmonised procedures and methods developed in this project will provide input directly into European and international standardisation.

Longer-term economic, social and environmental impacts

Radiological accidents bring human activity in contaminated areas to a halt, thus disrupting both economic and social order to a large extent. Misinformation regarding geographic location of contamination sites and the associated dose rates will trigger an avalanche of losses that affect agriculture, tourism, export and domestic consumption. By providing traceable radiological data, overestimation of the resulting risks will be avoided and the effects on both economic and social life can be minimised.

The instrumentation and methodology developed in this project will assist response teams to assess the breakdown phase (i.e., the initial location of the accident and whether the cause of the accident is moving or fixed). It will help authorities take immediate targeted action for the public protection, including measures to reduce panic and prevent unnecessary chaos by providing the public with reliable data on the spread of radioactive particles. Furthermore, it will contribute in guiding the emergency medical teams who provide health assistance to the affected/contaminated/exposed persons near to or in the contaminated areas and will also assist in defining safe evacuation routes and zones.