IJC Task Force Inventories Radionuclides in the Great Lakes

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IJC Task Force Inventories
Radionuclides in the Great Lakes

Most monitoring activities in the Great Lakes basin are inadequate for tracking how radionuclides move through the ecosystem, according to the International Joint Commission's Nuclear Task Force.

Monitoring is carried out to comply with various discharge licenses, the Task Force found, and there are many differences in the radionuclides that are reported by facilities in each country and how their levels are measured.

With the impending decommissioning of nuclear power plants and the growing problems of nuclear waste, the International Joint Commission (IJC) established the Task Force in 1995 to review, assess and report on the state of radioactivity in the Great Lakes basin.

The Task Force's Inventory of Radionuclides for the Great Lakes, released today, is an essential first step toward assessing the state of radioactivity in the Great Lakes.

The Task Force concluded that a revised monitoring and analytical protocol is needed to more fully assess how radionuclides affect the health of the ecosystem and whether adequate controls are in place to meet the goals of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

To compile the inventory, the Task Force used a material balance approach to describe the reported releases of radionuclides to air and water, and how these nuclides are distributed in the air, water and living organisms in the Great Lakes basin. This approach is a first step in establishing the sources, pathways, distribution and movement of radionuclides as a basis for determining human and ecosystem exposure, and undertaking risk assessments from the exposure information.

Various facilities used in the fuel cycle for nuclear energy are the primary human source of radionuclides in the Great Lakes basin. There are 11 nuclear power plants with 16 reactors in the U.S. portion and four nuclear power plants with 21 reactors in the Canadian portion of the basin, all of which emit radionuclides to the basin. Other large sources include a tritium removal plant at Darlington, uranium mines and their mill tailings that enter the Serpent River region, and uranium refining and conversion at Blind River and Port Hope in the Ontario portion of the basin. Also included are weapons facilities and auxiliary operations at Ashtabula, Ohio in the U.S. portion of the basin.

Commercial, industrial, medical and research institutions also use radionuclides in the Great Lakes basin. While these sources use small quantities of radioactive materials, they are numerous and the total quantities may contribute significantly to the burden of radioactive materials in the environment.

The Task Force identified tritium, carbon-14, iodine-129, isotopes of plutonium and radium-226 as radionuclides that merit separate studies and further reporting because of their patterns of use and discharge; their physical, chemical and biological properties; and the special monitoring needs of lakes.

The International Joint Commission was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty to help the United States and Canada manage their shared water resources. The IJC also assesses progress in the two countries to meet the goals of their Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The Commission is presently considering the inventory of its Task Force to determine future directions.

The full text of the Nuclear Task Force's Inventory of Radionuclides for the Great Lakes is available on the IJC's web site at the following location: www.ijc.org