An in situ method for the high resolution mapping of 137Cs and estimation of vertical depth penetration in a highly contaminated environment


Varley A, Tyler A, Dowdall M, Bondar Y & Zabrotski V (2017) An in situ method for the high resolution mapping of 137Cs and estimation of vertical depth penetration in a highly contaminated environment. Science of the Total Environment, 605-606, pp. 957-966.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown has to date been the single largest release of radioactivity into the environment. As a result, radioactive contamination that poses a significant threat to human health still persists across much of Europe with the highest concentrations associated with Belarus, Ukraine, and western Russia. Of the radionuclides still prevalent with these territories 137Cs presents one of the most problematic remediation challenges. Principally, this is due to the localised spatial and vertical heterogeneity of contamination within the soil (~ 10's of meters), thus making it difficult to accurately characterise through conventional measurement techniques such as static in situ gamma-ray spectrometry or soil cores. Here, a practical solution has been explored, which utilises a large number of short-count time spectral measurements made using relatively inexpensive, lightweight, scintillators (sodium iodide and lanthanum bromide). This approach offers the added advantage of being able to estimate activity and burial depth of 137Cs contamination in much higher spatial resolution compared to traditional approaches. During the course of this work, detectors were calibrated using the Monte Carlo Simulations and depth distribution was estimated using the peak-to-valley ratio. Activity and depth estimates were then compared to five reference sites characterised using soil cores. Estimates were in good agreement with the reference sites, differences of ~ 25% and ~ 50% in total inventory were found for the three higher and two lower activity sites, respectively. It was concluded that slightly longer count times would be required for the lower activity (< 1 MBq m− 2) sites. Modelling and reference site results suggest little advantage would be gained through the use of the substantially more expensive lanthanum bromide detector over the sodium iodide detector. Finally, the potential of the approach was demonstrated by mapping one of the sites and its surrounding area in high spatial resolution.

Cs-137; In situ; Field gamma-ray spectrometry; Peak-to-valley; PVT; Chernobyl

Science of the Total Environment: Volume 605-606

Publication date15/12/2017
Publication date online06/07/2017
Date accepted by journal08/06/2017