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Now Available: Guidelines on Soil and Vegetation Sampling for Radiological Monitoring

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Soil, vegetation and water can be contaminated with natural and artificial radionuclides, including in agricultural, forest and urban environments. How to check and measure such contamination in soil and vegetation, so that clean up if needed can be undertaken? Part of the solution lies in appropriate sampling techniques and methodology.

To ensure an effective radiation protection of people and environment, the characterization, mapping and monitoring of the affected areas are crucial.

New IAEA guidelines considers sampling strategies and programmes, which are relevant for both emergency and existing exposure situations. It includes practical advice on the design and implementation of sampling programmes and best practice examples for different exposure situations based on experience and lessons learned in various ways, including through nuclear or radiological accidents and incidents, nuclear weapons testing, contamination from nuclear fuel cycle facilities and other nuclear activities.  

“No proper scientific conclusion can be made without appropriate sampling,” said Andra-Rada Iurian, IAEA Environmental Assessment Analyst, in charge of the publication developed by experts from around the world.

In the past, severe accidents resulted in contamination and in the need for remediation of vast areas, including for instance in Goiânia in Brazil, where an unauthorized use of radioactive source led to the contamination of 85 houses in 1987, as well as in the aftermath of the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. In these cases, data from soil and vegetation sampling programmes were used to evaluate radionuclide contamination levels and to determine the actions necessary for the protection of people and the environment.

Ecosystems affected by the Chernobyl accident have been studied and monitored extensively for the past three decades. For each contaminated field, national authorities established a specific monitoring programme and a sampling programme according to the characteristics of the ecosystems affected, the nature of radionuclides, contamination pattern and land use.

Radionuclides such as uranium, radium or polonium are present in the environment naturally, but still need to be assessed for their baseline concentrations.

The publication “Guidelines on Soil and Vegetation Sampling for Radiological Monitoring” is part of the IAEA’s effort to assist national authorities with the development, implementation, maintenance and continual improvement of environmental radiological monitoring systems. The report will be supplemented by e-learning materials on guidelines and best practices on soil and vegetation sampling, including fresh water and sediment sampling, currently under development by the IAEA, Iurian said.

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