As a result of the releases of radioactive substances into the Pacific Ocean resulting from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, the IAEA is implementing a Technical Cooperation (TC) Project for countries throughout the Pacific Ocean region to monitor radioactive substances in the marine environment. Twenty-one IAEA Member States and three non-member States are participating in the project.
The first project meeting was held in Australia in August followed by a workshop on quality management in data handling and analytical procedures, conducted at the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco from 21-25 November 2011.
Considerable volumes of radioactively contaminated water entered and contaminated the Pacific Ocean, following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident. Although the contaminated water will be significantly diluted with time, ocean currents have and will continue to transport and circulate the contaminated water through the wider Pacific Ocean for the foreseeable future. The contaminated water may impact the marine environment. The spread of contaminated water raised concern among countries in the Pacific region that radiation releases may reach and damage coastal zones with possible consequences for communities and economies.
In response, countries throughout the region initiated a project to harmonize measurements of various radioisotopes in marine waters, biota, sediments and suspended matter. The uniform measurement of the radioisotopes in the ocean will ensure that any impact assessment is comparable and verifiable across the enormous volume of the Pacific Ocean. The IAEA TC project will enhance national capacities, which in turn will improve the exchange of data gathered from the ocean measurements, and the information about the potential impact of these radioisotopes and risks to marine biota, as well as to humans through marine food consumption.
"It is expected that the enormous dilution capacity of the Pacific Ocean will lead to low residual concentrations of radionuclides in ocean waters such that any significant contamination of marine food in coastal waters outside of Japan will not occur," said Hartmut Nies, Head of the IAEA's Radiometrics Laboratory and Technical Officer for the project. "To date, only Cs-134 and Cs-137 were detected far offshore from the Japanese coast in the prevailing Kuroshio Ocean current at levels of less concern."
The regional project will optimise and coordinate the application of the available skills and resources in the region and generate data that is reliable and exchangeable and comparable by improved quality assurance systems among participating Member States. It will also enhance countries' monitoring capacities for radioactivity in coastal waters in the case of accidental releases of radioactive substances in the future.
Experts on marine radioactivity from 21 countries participated in the November 2011 workshop in Monaco to agree on a Quality Management System and information database for joint monitoring programmes and analyses. The meeting also included a demonstration of easy sampling techniques for detection of radio-caesium isotopes in seawater.
The project was approved by the IAEA Board of Governors at its meeting in June as a prompt response to the request of the Member States in the region and started the implementation on 1 July 2011 and is planned to be finalised in 2015. Reports that detail the programme's progress will be drafted on an annual basis beginning in 2012. Extra-budgetary funding for the project was provided by the USA, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. Australia is serving as the lead country in the project.
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, RCA is an intergovernmental network of policy makers and scientists, with the IAEA acting as its Secretariat. RCA countries participating in the project are Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.
Additional countries participating include Cambodia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Nepal, Palau, Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands.