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IAEA Trains Member States in Use of Computer Models for Assessing Impact of Environmental Radioactivity


Course participants doing hands-on exercises to practice using the RESRAD computer model for assessing the impact of environmental radioactivity. (Photo: A. Iurian/IAEA)

Assessing the amount of radioactivity present in the environment is crucial for mitigating the adverse risks of radiation exposure and safeguarding public health. To this end, the IAEA, through its Environment Laboratories recently organized a two-week course to train participants in the necessary skills to develop their respective countries’ capacities for radiological assessments on dose risk and authorized limits at contaminated sites. The course was attended by 15 participants from 12 Member States, supported by the IAEA Technical Cooperation programme and hosted by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) in Illinois, USA from 30 April to 11 May 2018.

The course is part of ongoing cooperation between the IAEA Environment Laboratories and the Member States on monitoring environmental radioactivity and conducting environmental impact assessments. Impact assessments provide the basis for the management of radionuclides that are either naturally present in the environment, or result from anthropogenic causes. The assessments inform Member States about the possible impact on humans and the environment of any radioactivity that is present so that appropriate actions may be taken.

At the centre of the course was training in the ‘family of codes’ of RESRAD (RESidual RADioactivity), a computer model that estimates radiation doses and risks through various exposure pathways—for example, eating or drinking certain contaminated foods or water. Based on these types of complex estimates, regulators and government officials can decide how to manage any consequences of exposure to radioactivity. Since the participants all work in government authorities or organizations involved in radiological environmental assessment and monitoring, they can implement the family of codes in their respective countries’ institutions and share what they learned with their peers.

Remarking on his participation in the course, Mr. Alex Twesigye, Nuclear Safety Officer in the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development of Uganda said, “The RESRAD codes will be integrated in the national regulatory processes and activities to ensure that human beings and biota are adequately protected from ionising radiation arising from contaminated sites. I will also be happy to transfer the knowledge and skills acquired to my colleagues at work to create a multiplier effect.”

Over the two weeks, participants in the course had the opportunity to take part in discussion sessions, coordinated exercises and lectures delivered by leading experts in the field as well as by staff at Argonne National Laboratory where the RESRAD family of codes were originally developed. The five codes covered in the training (RESRAD-BIOTA, RESRAD-ONSITE, RESRAD-OFFSITE, RESRAD-BUILD, RESRAD-RDD) involved different radiation exposure situations for both human and non-human biota, such as whether exposure takes place in a contaminated building or on top of contaminated soil or how long after a radiation release the exposure takes place.

“The most useful thing was that I could understand the codes and ask questions straight to the codes' developers,” said Ms. Rena Mikailova, Research Officer at the Russian Institute of Radiology and Agroecology (RIRAE) in the Russian Federation. “All the RESRAD codes which we studied will be applicable to assess different radiological exposure situations for protecting members of the public and the environment as well as to derive different recommendations for further actions to take.”

Other topics covered in the training included ecological risk assessment, dose assessment and concentration ratios and transfer of radionuclides in the environment. Participants also took part in hands-on exercises that involved real-world scenarios such as reconstructing the wildlife dose from near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

The knowledge gained from this training will help in developing regulatory guidelines for radiation protection of human and biota.
Ms. Mouza Ali Alzaabi, Analyst, Environmental Laboratory of the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation, United Arab Emirates

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