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Radiological consequences of the extreme flooding on the lower course of the Rhone valley (December 2003, South East France)

F. Eyrolle, C. Duffa, C. Antonelli, B. Rolland and F. Leprieur
Science of The Total Environment
Volume 366, Issues 2-3 , 1 August 2006, Pages 427-438


In early December 2003 unusual weather conditions led to major flooding of the lower Rhone valley. When it floods, the Rhone carries large masses of solid matter in suspension, which potentially includes associated artificial (anthropogenic) radioactive contaminants from soil drainage in the catchment area and from re-uptake of sedimentary matter that has been contaminated with low-level radioactive liquid effluents from almost twenty nuclear facilities situated along the Rhone valley. A sampling campaign was carried out to investigate the level and spread of both sediment mass and associated radioactive contamination across the flooded areas. An attempt was made to assess the radiological consequences of such an extreme event on contamination of the food chain. Our results show that almost 700,000 tons of sediment was transported onto the floodplain, of which 80% were coarse and fine sands. These materials transferred 6660 MBq of 137Cs, 93 MBq of 239 + 240Pu, 13 MBq of 238Pu and 204 MBq of 60Co over a surface area of 60 km2. More than 90% of deposited sediments are concentrated in a 10 km2 area of agricultural soils, and we estimated that 18% were plowed into the soil. Nevertheless, the level of activity measured in the vegetable crops and milk was not significantly different from the level measured in similar samples from regions that were not affected by the December 2003 floods.


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