Terrestrial Environmental Radiochemistry Laboratory

The key task of this IAEA Laboratory is to provide expertise, training and support dealing with radioactive, industrial and other pollution. It assists Member States in preparing for emergencies and distributes reference materials on both radionuclides and stable isotopes to laboratories worldwide.  

Assessing radioactivity in the environment

One of the Laboratory’s main areas of work lies in the field of environmental radioactivity. It assists Member States with environmental impact assessments, remediation strategies for contaminated sites, training and advice on monitoring programmes. It helps them prepare for emergencies, conducts regular proficiency tests to assess the capacity of laboratories worldwide to analyse radioactive samples, and helps them identify means of improvement. The Laboratory also performs quality assurance activities for the more than 150 laboratories that are participating in the global network of Analytical Laboratories for the Measurement of Environmental Radioactivity (ALMERA), established by the IAEA.

Another focus area is that of high-precision environmental measurements. The Laboratory has considerable expertise in the fields of stable isotopes, trace elements, and alpha-, beta- and gamma-emitting radionuclides. Its scientists develop analytical procedures, conduct training workshops and – in the framework of IAEA technical cooperation projects with Member States – provide advice on the installation of laboratories. The majority of measurements are performed on IAEA reference products, helping laboratories worldwide provide consistent and accurate results.

Providing services for Member States and individual laboratories

The Laboratory regularly organizes training for Member States and develops reference materials for laboratories worldwide. It trains experts on risk and dose assessments to enable them to develop accurate models for environmental valuations related to radioactive and industrial pollutants and provides courses on emergency preparedness, remediation and mitigation activities, whether dealing with accidental contaminations or regular industrial activities, such as mining.

The reference materials the Laboratory develops are aimed at assisting laboratories with instrument calibration, quality control of equipment, and method validation. The Laboratory distributes yearly over 2,000 units of reference materials to laboratories around the globe, covering a range of environmental materials and pure substances to allow their application in virtually all scientific disciplines. 

There are about a hundred different reference materials available, including dried fish flesh, soils, ancient wood, dried cabbage, carbon dioxide gases, sucrose and marble. The Laboratory also prepared the Vienna Standard Mean Ocean Water 2, which is the primary standard with a particular mix of stable isotopes that represent the average of the world’s oceans. Against this standard all hydrogen and oxygen isotope measurements worldwide are performed.

The Laboratory also conducts every year proficiency tests for several hundred laboratories worldwide to help them check their analytical quality independently.

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