The uptake of iron-55 by marine sediment, macroalgae, and biota following discharge from a nuclear power station

P.E. Warwick, Andrew Cundy, I.W. Croudace, M.E.D. Bains, A.A. Dale

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    Significant quantities of 55Fe, an activation product of stable iron, have been released into the environment following the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons (mainly in the 1950s and 1960s) as well as through authorized discharges of radioactivity from nuclear power and reprocessing sites. Although some studies have been performed on the behavior of weapons' fallout-derived 55Fe in the environment and subsequent impact on humans, little has been published on the behavior of 55Fe released as a point source discharge from nuclear sites. This study presents data on the concentration and temporal variation of 55Fe in fucoid seaweeds, shellfish, crab, and lobster collected from Weymouth Bay and adjacent coastal areas, southern England. These areas have received authorized discharges of radionuclides originating from the operation of a now-decommissioned steam-generating, heavy water-type reactor at AEE Winfrith. The highest activities of 55Fe are found associated with marine sediments collected near the discharge pipeline and a rapid decline occurs away from the pipeline. This is consistent with rapid sorption of 55Fe by the sediment, and the data show there is only limited reworking and remobilization. Activities of 55Fe in biota generally decreased over time, due to a reduction in the amount of 55Fe discharged. The variation of 55Fe activity, revealed from the monthly sampling of seaweed, does not reflect the short-term fluctuations seen in the patterns of discharged 55Fe activity. Although discharges of 55Fe from AEE Winfrith exceeded other radionuclides, the radiological impact on local seafood consumers is considerably less than for other key radionuclides such as 60Co and 65Zn but of comparable magnitude to the global average population dose arising from fallout-derived 55Fe.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2171-2177
    Number of pages7
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
    Issue number11
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001


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