IRSN, Institut de radioprotection et de sûreté nucléaire

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Post-accident: IRSN develops real-time software to assess impacts of radioactive contamination in marine environment


Following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which resulted in significant radioactive releases into the Pacific Ocean, IRSN began developing a new calculation code for the dispersion of radionuclides in the event of an accident and their expected transfer to marine species, in partnership with a university and the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER).


IRSN launched the development of a computer code called Simulation of transport and transfer of radioactive elements in marine environments (STERNE) to consolidate its assessments resources in the event of an accident with radioactive contamination likely to affect the French coast. The purpose of the code is not only to simulate the dispersion of radionuclides in the sea, but also to predict concentrations in sediments and various marine species – fish, mollusks, shellfish, algae, etc. – that are part of the food chain, including that of humans. It is worth noting that IRSN already possesses similar tools for ecosystems and the terrestrial food chain.

The computer code relies on data and current predictions from hydrodynamic models, including those produced by Ifremer. After a testing and digital validation phase, an operational demonstrator has now been set up. Once it has been coupled with other assessment software at IRSN’s emergency technical response center (CTC), a series of accident scenarios affecting the marine environment will be run, the final test phase before STERNE goes into operation. STERNE demonstrations for IRSN’s international partners will also be available at that stage.


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