Use of Isotope Hydrology to Characterize Groundwater Systems in the Vicinity of Nuclear Power Plants

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Project Type

Coordinated Research Project

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Approved Date



3 - Active - Ongoing

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Participating Countries

Viet Nam


Nuclear energy remains the largest source of low-carbon electricity and the second largest source of energy in the world. Both developed and developing countries continue to express interest in nuclear energy and many have announced plans to acquire it. Several existing nuclear energy states, notably in Asia, are already building new Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs), while others are studying the possibilities. Although the NPPs site selection and operation follows very strict safety guidelines, there is always the case of unforeseen accidents, e.g., the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 which triggered an extremely severe nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi, that caused severe damage to NPPs and resulted in the release of radioactive materials into the environment and the contamination of groundwater. During the IAEA/UNESCO Technical Meeting on Groundwater Contamination following the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, IAEA Headquarters, Vienna, 8 – 10 September 2014, it was strongly felt by the participants that characterization of groundwater in the vicinity of NPPs is one of the most serious challenges.IAEA safety standards are available in form of safety guides/requirements for hydrogeological investigations (IAEA 1984, 2002, 2003 and 2011). However, in these documents, no guidelines are available on techniques for proper characterization of groundwater in the vicinity of NPPs and generation of reliable information to plan countermeasures for protection of public and the environment in case of accidental release of radioactive materials. Hence a new CRP is proposed for the comprehensive characterization of groundwater systems in the vicinity of NPPs in order to better assess the groundwater dynamics and define the pathways by which radionuclides released, in case of accident, can migrate to open environment and locations where water may be used by or for the population in the region. By using environmental isotopes in water (e.g., 18O, 2H, 13C, 14C, 3H, noble gas isotopes etc.), this CRP aims to produce the guidelines for adequate groundwater characterization in the vicinity of NPPs contributing to optimal groundwater resources management and protection of general public and environment from accidental radioactive release.


To develop guidelines for better hydrogeological characterisation of local and regional groundwater systems in the vicinity of nuclear power plants using environmental isotopes and conventional techniques.

Specific objectives

Assess and improve the use of environmental isotopes to investigate groundwater recharge source(s), recharge area, and recharge and discharge relationships in the proximity of NPPs.

Determine groundwater flow directions, ages near NPPs and velocity in order to define transport paths and travel times of radioactive material to reach the source of consumption from the point of release in case of an accident.

Improve the interpretation of hydrological processes, pathways and interactions between groundwater and surface water bodies to determine their exchange regimes and to estimate corresponding amounts of the exchanges.

Prepare conceptual models and help in the development and calibration of mathematical models to simulate groundwater flow and contaminant mass transport (e.g., tritium) in the vicinity of NPPs.

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