You are on page 1of 9


1. High-level waste (HLW) - spent fuel or small volumes of highly active

fission products from fuel reprocessing.
2. Intermediate-level waste (ILW) - waste products that require
handling and shielding but which do not (unlike HLW) emit significant
amounts of heat.
3. Low-level waste (LLW) - slightly contaminated waste that can be
packaged and handled without special precautions. This includes lowlevel radioactive liquid effluent and the emission of low-level gaseous
radioactivity to the atmosphere. In the UK, radioactive waste with up to
4x109 Bq t-1 of alpha emitters and 12x109 Bq t-1 of beta/gamma
emitters is classified as LLW.
This section deals principally with the last category which is released
into the environment.
There are five main sources of radioactivity to the environment and the
table linked below summarises some of the most common
radionuclides in relation to these sources.
Primordial and natural sources. The Earth=s crust contains primordial
and natural radioisotopes, such as uranium and thorium, which may
produce radioactive decay products. Cosmic radiation entering the
Earth=s atmosphere replenishes the Earth's supply of radionuclides
(Kennedy et al 1988).
Nuclear weapons testing. Testing and use of nuclear weapons in the
atmosphere has occurred since the Second World War. Nuclear
explosions result in the presence of fission products, including manmade radioisotopes, in the atmosphere and on the Earth=s surface.
Releases into the atmosphere have resulted in widespread
contamination of the soils and oceans because of atmospheric
circulation and fall-out.
Nuclear power generation. The generation of electricity from nuclear
power stations results in low level discharges of radioactivity to the
atmosphere, low level radioactive liquid effluent discharges to surface
waters and the generation of solid radioactive waste from the normal
functioning of the power stations. There is also the potential for
uncontrolled releases of radioactivity from accidents, such as
Chernobyl (1986).

Nuclear reprocessing industry. The use of nuclear fuel in power stations

and in other uses generates spent nuclear fuel and solid radioactive
waste that is stored or reprocessed at nuclear reprocessing
installations. Two such installations exist in the UK: Sellafield (England)
and Dounreay (Scotland). These installations also give rise to low level
discharges of radioactivity to the atmosphere, low level liquid
radioactive effluent discharges to surface (principally marine) waters
and solid radioactive waste. There is also a risk of uncontrolled
releases of radioactivity from accidents, such as at Windscale
(Sellafield) during 1957.
Various military, industrial, medical and research establishments.
Radioactivity is also released into the environment from various
smaller sources in the form of low level atmospheric and liquid
discharges and potentially from accidental releases. These include:
military establishments where nuclear weapons are located or nuclear
powered vessels are based;
industrial providers of radioisotopes for medical, industrial or research
use (for example Amersham International plc in the UK), and users of
radioisotopes including hospitals and research establishments.
With the exception of primordial and natural sources, all the above are
point sources of radioactivity into the environment. However, in terms
of entry to the aquatic ecosystem, there is a combination of point and
diffuse sources. Discharges of low level liquid effluent discharges to
surface waters can be considered as point sources. Discharges of low
level discharges and accidental releases to the atmosphere can result
in a widespread distribution due to atmospheric circulation, such that
fall-out to the aquatic environment is effectively a diffuse source of
The principal diffuse source of radioactivity to the aquatic environment
is from atmospheric fall-out and the main point source is from the
nuclear reprocessing industry. Estuarine systems, in particular, are
sinks for organic matter from both freshwater and marine origins and,
as such, accumulate radionuclides that are associated with organic
matter. They are also very productive and act as a nursery and feeding
area for fish, birds and macro-crustaceans. As such, there is a pathway
for accumulated radionuclides to enter the food web where potential
impacts may occur and possibly result in the exposure of Mankind to
this source of radioactivity.
Recorded levels in the marine environment
The responsibility for monitoring levels of radioactivity in the marine
environment lies with the Environment Agency in England and Wales,

SEPA in Scotland and the Environment and Heritage Service in

Northern Ireland. In addition, the competent authorities for food safety
(MAFF, Scottish Executive and DANI) are responsible for monitoring
radioactivity in food organisms (including algae, shellfish and fish).
MAFF publish an annual report jointly with SEPA on >Radioactivity in
food and the environment= (i.e. MAFF 1998) that summarises the
results of government surveillance. The main dischargers (i.e. British
Nuclear Fuels at Sellafield) also monitor their own discharges and
report the results annually (i.e. BNFL 1997).
Radionuclides are found in measurable quantities in the water column,
suspended sediments, sea-bed sediments and the biota (Kershaw et al
Kennedy et al (1988) reported studies where detectable levels of
137Cs were found in sand flats, Arenicola sand flats and coastal
embayments and saltmarshes of the Solway estuary and levels of
137Cs and 241Am in the Ravenglass estuary (see table below) .
Kershaw et al (1992) reported studies in the Esk estuary where
detectable levels of 137 Cs, 144Ce, 106Ru, 95Zr, 95Nb and Pu were
found. Radionuclides from Sellafield have also been found in the Wyre
estuary and in the water column and sediment of the Ribble estuary
(Kershaw et al 1992).
Table - Some of the most common radionuclides, with half-lives of
greater than one day, from the main sources of radioactivity to the
environment (adapted from Kennedy et al 1988)
Radionuclide accumulation in saltmarshes is controlled principally by
the physical processes associated with tidal flow and sediment
deposition (Horrill 1983), but the type of vegetation present also has
an effect on accumulation rates - vegetated areas accumulate
radionuclides, such as americium, caesium and plutonium at faster
rates than unvegetated areas. A large number of other factors can also
affect accumulation rates, to the extent that variability within and
between different saltmarshes can be wide. However, the relative
stability and high biological productivity of saltmarsh sediments (away
from tidal channels) favours the accumulation of plutonium and
caesium isotopes, with highest activities often being associated with
fine-grained mud flats, such as those in the Solway Firth (Kennedy et al
Some radionuclides have been found to accumulate in the biota. In
particular, benthic algae, molluscs (mussels, winkles, limpets, whelks,
scallops, queens), crustacea (crab, lobster, Nephrops, shrimps) and fish

(including plaice, cod, flounder, herring) have been found to

accumulate some radionuclides based on monitoring information
collected by MAFF in the Irish Sea (Kershaw et al 1992). The principal
concern has been to determine the risk to the human population and
so the fish and shellfish species selected for monitoring have been
commercially important ones. These species have been found to
accumulate a number of radionuclides but the most important appear
to be 106Ru and 137Cs. Both have been found to accumulate in fish
muscle (plaice) and in crab Cancer pagurus hepatopancreas and
muscle tissue. Crabs were found to accumulate 144Ce and 95Zr/95Nb
in addition to 106Ru and 137 Cs. The most significant uptake route for
these species is believed to be via the diet.
Fate and behaviour in the marine environment
The fate and behaviour of radionuclides in the marine environment is
determined by the fate and behaviour of the element concerned. For
example, if an element is adsorbed to sediment particles, then the
radionuclide of that element will behave in the same way.
The radioactive elements will not be destroyed in the environment and
radioactivity will be emitted from whatever compounds are formed
with the element. The duration that the energy will be emitted is
governed by the half-life of the radionuclide which can range from
hours to hundreds of years.
Effects on the marine environment
There are a number of important factors that determine the
environmental effects of radionuclides. Radioactivity is a form of
energy released from radioactive elements and the potential for
damage depends on the amount of energy absorbed by an organism.
In radiation risk assessments, the amount of energy absorbed is
termed the absorbed dose (measured in Grays (Gy)). Factors affecting
the absorbed dose are the identity of the radionuclide, the type of
radioactivity, the chemical form of the radionuclide, the exposure
pathway to the organism and the biochemistry of the organism.
There are a number of different forms of radiation, including alpha and
beta particles, gamma and x-rays each with different levels of energy.
Radionuclides emit some of these forms of radiation in different
proportions over different lengths of time (related to the half-life of the
radionuclide. In order to compare the absorbed dose from different
radionuclides, the estimate in Grays is commonly (though not always)
converted by a quality factor to a dose equivalent (measured in

sieverts (Sv)). Effectively, this takes into consideration the different

biological effects of different types of radiation.
Polikarpov (1998) proposed a conceptual model of radiation effects in
the environment, relating dose rates to effects at the individual,
population and community level. The model comprises four zones:
Radiation well-being zone: natural background levels of radiation up to
a dose rate of 0.005 Gy yr-1;
Physiological masking zone: where minor radiation effects at the
individual level occur between 0.005 Gy yr-1 to 0.05 Gy yr-1.
Ecological masking zone: where effects of radiation at the population
level have been detected between 0.05 Gy yr-1 and 4 Gy yr-1.
Damage to ecosystems zone: where community level effects
(reduction in the number of organisms, elimination of radiosensitive
species and impoverishment of communities) have been detected at
concentrations above 4 Gy yr-1.
This model is not confined to the marine environment but has been
developed using responses in the marine, freshwater and terrestrial
The most detailed study of potential environmental effects of
radioactivity has been the investigations into the impacts of the
Sellafield discharges on the marine environment (summarised up to
1992 by Kershaw et al 1992).
While it must be assumed that any exposure to radiation carries some
risk of harm, for marine organisms, if the damage to individuals is not
manifest at the population level, and does not damage the overall
reproductive capacity of the population, then the effect may be
regarded as being of little significance (Kershaw et al 1992). In a
comprehensive review of radiation effects reported in Kershaw et al
(1992), the lowest dose rate at which minor radiation induced
disturbances of physiology or metabolism might be detectable was
about 400 mSv hour-1. The dose rates around Sellafield were at least
an order of magnitude below those which would be expected to elicit
effects under controlled laboratory conditions and about two orders of
magnitude below those which might be expected to have an effect at
the population level during the period of maximum discharges
(Kershaw et al 1992). There have been no conclusively demonstrated
effects at the population level of the radioactive discharges from
Sellafield on the marine environment.
Effects on marine organisms

An exhaustive literature review on the effects of radioactive

substances on marine organisms has not been carried out for the
purposes of this profile. The information provided in this section is
taken from existing review documents (Kershaw et al 1992 and Parrett
Parrett (1998) considered the following issues in a consideration of the
effects of radioactivity on North Sea fish stocks:
lethal effects;
effects on reproductive success;
genetic effects.
Studies reported in Parrett (1998) indicated that the range of lethal
levels in adults of different species of fish was in the range 3.75 to 100
Gy, and for invertebrates ranging from 0.2 to above 500 Gy. Earlier
developmental stages have been identified as more susceptible and
mortality of fish embryos has been shown to occur at about 0.16 Gy.
The effects on reproductive success in fish that have been
demonstrated include sterility, reduction in counts of primordial germ
cells and reduced testicular weight. The lowest dose rate at which
effects of chronic radiation exposure on fertility of aquatic
invertebrates and fish were demonstrated was about 0.25 mGy hour-1
(Parrett 1998). The implied mechanism for these effects was damage
to germ cells and the induction of dominant lethal mutations in
Mutation rates increase in relation to radiation exposure and so
therefore does the chance of deleterious mutations occurring. While
natural selection will act to keep these mutations at low level in the
gene pool, some expression might occur in the short-term (in the form
of sterility or dominant lethal mutations) or in the long term (in the
form of >genetic disease.=)
Despite these types of effects being demonstrated in laboratory
conditions, there is no evidence of the consequences of this expression
at the population level in fish or macro-crustaceans. Dose rates in the
order of 10 mGy hour-1 are considered acceptable for the protection of
aquatic populations. This assumes some damage to individuals but not
to the extent that this would affect the population as a whole (Parrett
Little is known of the processes involved in radionuclide uptake and
retention to be able to predict those species which will be most

efficient at accumulating environmental radioactivity. However, a

number of generalisations can be made:
Reproductive stages and growing tissues are the most sensitive to
radioactivity, notably the eggs of marine fish (Kershaw et al 1992).
Like more typical pollutants, such as persistent organics and heavy
metals, radioactive isotopes can be bioaccumulated, both within
primary producers and by uptake through the food chain.
Bacteria, fungi and some lichens tend to be relatively tolerant to
Amongst fauna, mammals appear to be the most sensitive, followed by
birds, and then insects.
Environmental radioactivity is not known to have produced deleterious
effects in the growth patterns of plants and animals, so radioactive
isotopes are probably less important than many of the other
contaminants listed in this document.
The lowest dose rate at which minor radiation-induced disturbances in
physiology or metabolism might be detectable is about 400
µSv.hour-1 (IAEA 1976), approximately an order of magnitude
greater than the dose rates measured around Sellafield (Kershaw et al
1992) which is the largest radionuclide source in the British coastal
environment. Despite this, wading birds and their prey are potential
accumulators of radionuclides, so a precautionary approach is
Potential effects on interest features of European marine sites
Potential effects include:
accumulation of radionuclides in sediments (particularly in estuaries)
and in biota;
exposure of organisms to ionising radiation at dose rates greater than
background levels (if a precautionary approach is adopted).

Pollution: Unacceptable Ocean Dumping

Another significant impact of human activity on the marine environment is

pollution. Almost half of the pollution found at sea comes from the land. Aside
from oil spills, pollution comes in the form of domestic sewage, industrial
Ocean Defender Tour of Southeast Asia 2013
Indonesia Thailand Philippines May-July 2013
discharges, urban and industrial run-off, accidents, spillage, explosions, sea
dumping operations, mining, agricultural run-offs and pesticides, waste heat
sources and radioactive discharges.
Plastics and and other solid wastes also often end up floating in our seas. It
can take up to 1,000 years for plastic to break down in the water and it is
often found embedded in the skin or stomachs of birds, fish, turtles and
marine mammals. Even a tiny cigarette can take two years to break down.
In the Philippines plastics are common visible wastes that pollute our seas. In
August 2012 for example, in Manila Bay, the Metropolitan Manila
Development Authority (MMDA) reported they collected as much as 1,800
tons of trashmostly plastic bags and wrapperswashed ashore by heavy
rains. Waste audits conducted by Greenpeace and EcoWaste Coalition in 2006
and 2010 showed that more than 70% of Manila Bay rubbish consist of plastic
bags and packaging.
The countrys coastlines are also under threat by harmful chemicals such as
oil spills and toxic mine spills. One of the biggest toxic mine spills was the
1995 Marcopper mine spill in Marinduque which killed the provinces rivers
and polluted its coastal waters. Heavy metal poisons from the spill ruined the
health of nearby communities and caused deaths. The amount of coastal
fisheries income lost due to the toxic spill was estimated at PHP 9.2 million in
In 2006, the Philippine seas were dealt a double blow with the Rapu Rapu
mine tailings spill, and the Guimaras oil slick disaster which came at the high
cost of community health and livelihood. Coal spills are also a threat. In 2008,
a massive coal spill occurred off the coasts of Bolinao, Pangasinan, an
important fishing town. The environmental damage it inflicted was estimated
at PHP 55 million.


Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays, and
denoted by the Greek letter , refers to electromagnetic
radiation of an extremely high frequency and therefore
consists of high-energy photons. Gamma rays are ionizing
radiation, and are thus biologically hazardous.