U.S. DOE's SRNL and Ukraine's IRL to collaborate on radiation ecology research

Under a recently signed agreement, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and the Ukraine's International Radioecology Laboratory (IRL) will collaborate on radiation ecology research, including projects in the region impacted by the catastrophic accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 24 years ago. Researchers at IRL use the area around Chernobyl as an extensive laboratory for studying the effects of radioactive contamination and methods of decontamination. The agreement is intended both to assist in the Ukrainians' research efforts and to gain valuable information on subjects of mutual interest.

Under the auspices of the DOE Office of Environmental Management's (EM) International Program, SRNL and IRL have recently collaborated on various research projects, such as a study of the environmental problems associated with decommissioning the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Pond, a study on how deeply certain contaminants penetrate concrete building materials, and a study of how contaminants are distributed along the height of multi-story buildings. The last two studies were designed to provide insight into approaches for decontaminating buildings, a topic of great interest to EM. Papers resulting from these studies are scheduled for publication in Health Physics Journal.

These projects convinced DOE and SRNL that there is still a wealth of knowledge to be gained from research in the region impacted by the 1986 accident at Chernobyl. To help facilitate research, SRNL has entered into a collaborative agreement with IRL to look for mutually beneficial projects in a variety of subjects related to radiation ecology. "Even though Chernobyl is fundamentally different from any U.S. nuclear site, there is much we can learn in the surrounding area," said Eduardo Farfan, co-principal SRNL investigator for interactions with IRL. "As a result of the accident, the nearby area has become a unique laboratory where we can observe how the environment changes and how animals and plants change over time following contamination. The scientists at IRL have unique knowledge since they work with this landscape every day," he added. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, which includes the abandoned industrial city of Pripyat, is heavily contaminated as a result of the accident. Unfit for residential or agricultural use, it is uniquely suited for studying radionuclide distribution, movement and effect.

"We share a lot of the same interests with our colleagues at IRL," said Farfan, "They are developing techniques and technologies for cleaning up the environment in the region that might ultimately be useful to DOE," he said. DOE is conducting major programs to clean up and decommission its facilities that are no longer used for nuclear materials production and processing.

In addition to providing a market for IRL's cleanup technologies, the collaboration also provides IRL with the expertise at SRNL and other DOE laboratories. In one upcoming project funded by the EM International Program, an SRNL expert in nature-based environmental cleanup techniques, Miles Denham, will work with IRL to study the potential of engineered enhancements to enable the area's natural decontamination processes to clean up the area. This project also offers benefit to DOE, as the contaminated soils of the Chernobyl Exclusion zone provide an excellent analogue to many of DOE's soil contamination problems.

One of the key objectives of the collaborators is to make the knowledge gained through this partnership widely available. In addition to the Health Physics Journal papers, a special supplement of the journal is planned, and the team will place emphasis on publishing their research findings in scholarly journals so that others may benefit from the knowledge gained.

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