Environmental monitoring: Training specialists in harmonized sampling methods at the IAEA laboratories

<br>
Environmental monitoring is essential for public safety and protection. 
<br>
<br>
By monitoring environmental radionuclides, countries can enhance their understanding of air, land and water and their ability to manage and protect these valuable resources.
<br>
For monitoring results to be comparable between countries and across regions, methodologies to analyse environmental samples for selected radionuclides must be harmonized.
<br>
<br>
A lack of suitable standards for quality control and instrument calibration can cause large uncertainty of results. 
<br>Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA is helping countries in the Europe region to improve their environmental monitoring.
<br>
<br>
A two year project, RER/0/033, ‘Supporting Quality Assurance for the Measurement and Monitoring of Radioactivity in the Environment’, helps countries to improve the quality assurance for the measurement and monitoring of radioactivity in the environment, in accordance with ISO 17025.
<br>Its also important for countries to be able to compare their monitoring results with each other.
<br>
<br>
With the improvement and harmonization of methodologies, this comparison is easier to perform.
<br>The project is providing training in environmental monitoring for specialists from across Europe.
<br>
<br>
As part of the project, over 30 participants from 25 countries from the European region attended a one week course at the IAEA’s laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria. The training course was organized by the IAEA’s Terrestrial Environment Laboratory.
<br>The course provided expertise on recommended procedures and techniques for soil and vegetation sampling, and their application in both routine and emergency environmental monitoring.<br>Along with lectures and presentations, participants took part in hands-on sessions, where they could see and use specialized equipment.<br>For example, participants learned to use the soil column cylinder auger. This takes a sample core of earth of up to 1 metre for investigation of radionuclide content. <br>The Fine Increment Soil Collector (FISC) was also demonstrated. This sampling device was originally developed for analysing beryllium-7 in surface soil, to quantify short term soil and sediment redistribution.<br>Trainees also used the scraper plate, which takes a large area sample of the topsoil layer, for measuring the caesium-137 activity in soils.<br>In order to sample the top soil layers, participants were able to practice using the equipment. The soil core sampler has to be hit vigorously.<br>Vegetation was also cut and stored in sealable bags for subsequent analysis back at the laboratory.<br>A multi-purpose handheld contamination meter was used to measure gamma dose rate, and to check possible alpha and beta surface contamination.<br>All samples taken were clearly labelled for easy identification and sample tracking.<br>Environmental sampling records were completed in the field with all the information required for future analysis. The records included date, weight, location, and the sampling equipment used.<br>Data collected must be easily accessible.
<br>
<br>
Samples are photographed and all information can be sent through mobile devices to a remote monitoring platform. This provides a quick and accurate initial transfer of the sample information to the laboratory.<br>The project aims to share lessons learned from monitoring practices, and to enhance quality assurance by applying international standards. 
<br>
<br>
By improving networks within the region and enhancing quality assurance, common processes can be developed and lead to better process sustainability.
<br>Participants returned to their home countries with more knowledge and improved technical skills for soil and vegetation sampling. <br>Training courses and workshops build local expertise and strengthen networking by bringing together specialists.
<br>
<br>
Around the world, the IAEA’s technical cooperation is helping Member States achieve their development priorities while also taking measures to protect atmospheric, terrestrial and marine environments. Nuclear technology plays a vital role in this effort.
<br>
<br><br>
Text and photos:
<br>
Hazel Pattison