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IAEA Project Monitors Radioactive Release from Fukushima Accident on Asia-Pacific Marine Environment

Radionuclides in Seawater

In this photograph, a "proficiency test" is being prepared by diluting a well-defined radioactive source into seawater, which should be determined through analytic procedures for radionuclides in seawater. (Photo: Korean Institute for Nuclear Safety)

A joint project between the IAEA, 20 IAEA Member States and three non-Member States from the Asia and Pacific region is building the analytical skills and infrastructure needed to monitor the region's marine environment and derive high-quality data to evaluate the possible impact of the release of radioactivity.

Launched in July 2011, training events and expert missions have taken place at the IAEA's Environment Laboratory in Monaco and in Korea during the first year of the project. Member States are gaining experience in using quality management systems for marine water radioactivity measurements, as well as on quality assurance and data management.

Environmental and Economic Concerns

As a result of the nuclear accident at TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, a large quantity of radioactive substances were discharged into the Pacific Ocean over a period of several months, but mostly in March/April 2011. The radioactive contamination of the Pacific Ocean raised significant concern about the environmental and economic impact among Pacific and Asian countries. The IAEA, together with the Regional Cooperative Agreement (RCA) Member States, immediately initiated an IAEA Technical Cooperation (TC) project for countries throughout the Pacific Ocean region to monitor radioactive substances in the marine environment.

High-Quality Measurement

In order to assure high-quality, reliable measurement results from the Asia-Pacific region in future, the IAEA Environment Laboratory conducted a proficiency test on analysing radionuclides in seawater. The participating laboratories received a well-defined radioactive source to be diluted into their local seawater and analysed for radionuclides typical for the Fukushima "radionuclide fingerprint pattern".

In general, the proficiency test showed good results, but also indicated areas for improvement in radio-analytical procedures and data quality among the participating laboratories. A second proficiency test will be carried out following a regional training course on marine radio-analytical techniques to be hosted by China in 2013.

Also in 2013, a regional training course on radiological risk assessment will be hosted by Thailand and seawater sampling equipment will be provided to Pacific Island States. This training and equipment will enable these countries to make their own assessments about the potential impact from the marine radioactivity arising from the Fukushima accident based on internationally recognized scientific standards.

The IAEA's TC project will improve the exchange of data gathered from marine measurements undertaken by the participating countries, as well as the information about the potential impact of these radioisotopes and risks to marine biota and potentially to seafood safety. The data will be initially collected in the regional Asia and Pacific Marine Radioactivity Database (ASPAMARD) managed by the Philippines, then also in the IAEA global marine database (MARiS) run by the Environment Laboratories in Monaco.

Current Assessments

At the first Annual Review Meeting, held in Vietnam in August 2012, predictive hydrodynamic models were demonstrated that showed how the strong oceanic Kuroshio Current and its extension transports the radioactive substances across the Pacific Ocean in an easterly direction. The ocean's enormous dilutive capacity has reduced the initially high radioactive concentrations to relatively low levels. However, recent results of marine fish sampled near the Japanese coast show that intensive monitoring work needs to be continuously performed by the responsible authorities to guarantee seafood safety for the population and to provide a full picture of the situation.

Participants at the Annual Review Meeting were briefed on developments at the crippled nuclear power reactors at Fukushima and received information on the results of seawater and marine samples monitoring in the Pacific Region.

Background

Marine Monitoring Project

The project started on 1 July 2011 and is planned to be finalized in 2015, with Review Meetings each year. Extrabudgetary funding for the project was provided by the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Australia is serving as the lead country in the project.

Regional Cooperative Agreement

The majority of countries participating in the project are collaborating under the Regional Cooperative Agreement for Research, Development and Training Related to Nuclear Science and Technology for Asia and the Pacific Region (RCA). Established in 1972 under the auspices of IAEA, RCA is an intergovernmental network of policy makers and scientists. RCA Government Parties participating in the project are Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.

Additional countries participating include Cambodia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Palau, Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands.

Building Capacity in IAEA Member States

The IAEA develops and transfers nuclear technology to Member States through coordinated research activities, the sharing of good practices, and technical cooperation projects that support sustainable socioeconomic development.

-- By Kesrat Sukasam, IAEA Technical Cooperation/Asia and Pacific Section; Harmut Nies, IAEA Environmental Laboratories; and Peter Kaiser, IAEA Division of Public Information


(Note to Media: We encourage you to republish these stories and kindly request attribution to the IAEA)