Laboratories, universities unite to build radioecology expertise
Jan 26, 2011 - 5:00:00 AM
With the renewed and growing interest in nuclear energy, radioecology experts at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory recognized an immediate need to build the pool of radioecology expertise both here and abroad. To address this need, they worked with partners from universities across the U.S. and laboratories in France and the Ukraine to form the National Center for Radioecology (NCoRE), a network of excellence for environmental radiation risk reduction and remediation.
Radioecology is the science that investigates the movement and effect of radionuclides released to the environment. It combines expertise in physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, ecology, and radiation protection. The growth in new nuclear energy capacity is going to require the ability to realistically assess the health and environmental impacts of nuclear facilities, said SRNL's Dr. Wendy Kuhne, one of the lead researchers for NCoRE. With that knowledge, we can locate, design and operate the facilities in a way that meets our energy needs without increasing the risk to the population or the environment. Radioecology knowledge is also important for understanding, assessing and managing the impact of other potential sources of radionuclides, including contaminated sites managed by the Department of Energy (DOE), the military and others. In addition, it is an important contributor in preparing responses to acts of terrorism involving radioactive materials.
The increased need for radioecology, however, follows on the heels of many years' decline in educational opportunities in the field. There is currently no formal graduate program in radioecology in the United States since the retirement of Dr. Ward Whicker from Colorado State University (CSU), who is regarded as one of the founders of radioecology in the United States. Dr. Kuhne was Dr. Whicker's final PhD candidate to graduate from the program. One of the chief goals of NCoRE will be to work with key partners to establish a training and education program for radioecologists to develop future capability as the existing pool of experts reaches retirement age. NCoRE will serve as faculty for courses offered at some of the partner universities.
In addition to the education component, the NCoRE member institutions will seek out opportunities to collaborate in research projects and development of methods for risk reduction from human exposure to radionuclides and associated chemicals. The partners will leverage their resources and expertise through joint research proposals in areas that include molecular and genetic level effects, synergistic effects, individual and population level studies, ecosystem studies, sequestration and remediation, and homeland security issues related to urban radioecology. A core component of the program will be to make the fundamental connection between environmental health and human health risk assessment.
So far, two graduate students are pursuing projects at SRNL under the auspices of NCoRE. One is doing work in uncertainty analysis to determine potential errors or ways of enhancing current methods of measurement and analysis of radionuclides in liquid effluent and surface water samples taken at the Savannah River Site. The other, a PhD candidate, is performing work related to how non-radioactive and radioactive elements in contaminated soil are absorbed by specific plant species. .
Member organizations of NCoRE currently include:
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