Project Details The global scenario and challenges of radioactive waste in the marine environment

Project No.:
Start Date:
28 March 2022
End Date:


To provide knowledge about the fate and transport of radioactive waste in the marine environment.

Radionuclides have been released to the aquatic environment as the result of reactor accidents (e.g., Fukushima), fuel production facilities (e.g., Port Hope -strictly a great lake), fuel reprocessing plants (e.g., Windscale/Sellafield), aircraft accidents (e.g., Palomares and Thule) and reactor disposals (e.g., Soviet ice breaker and submarine reactors in the Kara Sea). Their measurement may present unique radiochemical challenges. Radionuclides become redistributed by ocean currents, may be widely accumulated by biota or be returned to the land by sea to land transfer. While discharges to the sea have been used to map ocean currents, they also present a potential hazard to biota and man. For example, Ru-106, Tc-99, and Cs-137 have all been shown to have entered the human food chain and may present a health hazard. However, information on radionuclides in the ocean is dispersed. The proposal will bring together relevant information in a single referenced document.


Radioactive material has been directly or indirectly discharged into the oceans. Radioactive waste includes any material that is either intrinsically radioactive, or has been contaminated by radioactivity, and that is deemed to have no further use. Radioactive waste is typically classified as either low-level (LLW), intermediate-level (ILW), or high-level (HLW), dependent on its level of radioactivity. Although studies have been conducted, there is lack of collective data on the level of radioactive contamination in marine waters. The threats of radioactive contamination are alarming and have gone through the food chain. There has been a rise in the number of known sources of anthropogenic radionuclides in the marine environment. The most significant global source of radionuclides in the marine environment is fallout from nuclear tests performed in the atmosphere. The deposition of radionuclides from these sources is unevenly distributed in the global ocean. In 1999, the Irish Sea was contaminated with radioactive Cs-137 and the fish in this area also contain high levels of radioactivity. In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster released a significant amount of radioactive contamination. It is estimated that 18,000 TBq of radioactive Cs-137 was discharged into the Pacific Ocean. The assessment of marine radioactivity in a marine environment needs a thorough knowledge of the potential sources and an understanding of oceanic processes.

The three main objectives of the project are as follows:

1) Provide the state-of-the-art critical review of the current knowledge and understanding of the radioactive waste in the ocean. This objective will address the problems of detection, identification, and behavior/transformation in different environmental compartments.

2) Provide an understanding and category of the health along with the risks associated to the radioactive discharge.

3) Provide information on the effectiveness and current/future challenges of this body in protecting the environment and health.



Page last update 29 March 2022