Marine disposal of radioactive wastes
- D. S. Woodhead1
© Biologische Anstalt Helgoland 1980
In a general sense, the main attraction of the marine environment as a repository for the wastes generated by human activities lies in the degree of dispersion and dilution which is readily attainable. However, the capacity of the oceans to receive wastes without unacceptable consequences is clearly finite and this is even more true of localized marine environments such as estuaries, coastal waters and semi-enclosed seas. Radionuclides have always been present in the marine environment and marine organisms and humans consuming marine foodstuffs have always been exposed, to some degree, to radiation from this source. The hazard associated with ionizing radiations is dependent upon the absorption of energy from the radiation field within some biological entity. Thus any disposal of radioactive wastes into the marine environment has consequences, the acceptability of which must be assessed in terms of the possible resultant increase in radiation exposure of human and aquatic populations. In the United Kingdom the primary consideration has been and remains the safe-guarding of public health. The control procedures are therefore designed to minimize as far as practicable the degree of human exposure within the overall limits recommended as acceptable by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. There are several approaches through which control could be exercised and the strengths and weaknesses of each are considered. In this review the detailed application of the critical path technique to the control of the discharge into the north-east Irish Sea from the fuel reprocessing plant at Windscale is given as a practical example. It will be further demonstrated that when human exposure is controlled in this way no significant risk attaches to the increased radiation exposure experienced by populations of marine organisms in the area.