IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Enhancing Nuclear Safety



Development of emergency response tools for accidental radiological contamination of French coastal areas

​Journal of Environmental Radioactivity volume 151, Part 2, pages 487-494, January 2017


The Fukushima nuclear accident resulted in the largest ever accidental release of artificial radionuclides in coastal waters. This accident has shown the importance of marine assessment capabilities for emergency response and the need to develop tools for adequately predicting the evolution and potential impact of radioactive releases to the marine environment.


The French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) equips its emergency response centre with operational tools to assist experts and decision makers in the event of accidental atmospheric releases and contamination of the terrestrial environment. The on-going project aims to develop tools for the management of marine contamination events in French coastal areas. This should allow us to evaluate and anticipate post-accident conditions, including potential contamination sites, contamination levels and potential consequences.


In order to achieve this goal, two complementary tools are developed: site-specific marine data sheets and a dedicated simulation tool (STERNE, Simulation du Transport et du transfert d’Eléments Radioactifs dans l'environNEment marin).


Marine data sheets are used to summarize the marine environment characteristics of the various sites considered, and to identify vulnerable areas requiring implementation of population protection measures, such as aquaculture areas, beaches or industrial water intakes, as well as areas of major ecological interest. Local climatological data (dominant sea currents as a function of meteorological or tidal conditions) serving as the basis for an initial environmental sampling strategy is provided whenever possible, along with a list of possible local contacts for operational management purposes.


The STERNE simulation tool is designed to predict radionuclide dispersion and contamination in seawater and marine species by incorporating spatio-temporal data. 3D hydrodynamic forecasts are used as input data. Direct discharge points or atmospheric deposition source terms can be taken into account. STERNE calculates Eulerian radionuclide dispersion using advection and diffusion equations established offline from hydrodynamic calculations. A radioecological model based on dynamic transfer equations is implemented to evaluate activity concentrations in aquatic organisms. Essential radioecological parameters (concentration factors and single or multicomponent biological half-lives) have been compiled for main radionuclides and generic marine species (fish, molluscs, crustaceans and algae). Dispersion and transfer calculations are performed simultaneously on a 3D grid. Results can be plotted on maps, with possible tracking of spatio-temporal evolution. Post-processing and visualization can then be performed.


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