Radioactivity and the Environment

Transfer – Exposure – Effects (TREE): integrating the science needed to underpin radioactivity assessments for humans and wildlife

For all sources of radioactivity, radiological risk assessments are essential for safeguarding human and environmental health. Assessments often have to rely upon simplistic assumptions, such as the use of simple ratios in risk calculations that combine many processes. This pragmatic approach has largely arisen due to the lack of scientific knowledge and/or data in key areas. The resultant uncertainty has been taken into account through conservative approaches to radiological risk assessment, which may tend to overestimate risk. Uncertainty arises at all stages of the assessment process from the estimation of transfer to human foodstuffs and wildlife, and exposure and risk. Reducing uncertainty is important as it relates directly to scientific credibility, which will always be open to challenge given the highly sensitive nature of radiological risk assessment in society. TREE is an integrated, multi-disciplinary programme to assess and reduce the uncertainty associated with radiological risk assessment to protect human health and the environment, which builds the capacity needed to ensure that the UK rebuilds and maintains expertise in environmental radioactivity into the future.

TREE is composed of the highly inter-related components described below to address the key goal of RATE, which when put together will enable the reduction and better quantification of the uncertainties associated with radiological risk assessment.

Abandoned settlement
Przewalski horses

Component 1: study of how the biological availability of radionuclides varies in soils over time and investigation into whether short-term measurements (collected in three year controlled experiments) can be used to predict the long-term availability of radionuclides in soils by testing our models in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

Component 2: application of phylogeny and ionomics concepts and statistical modelling methods to characterise radionuclide uptake by plants and other organisms; a pioneering approach for radionuclide uptake.

Component 3: improve the quantification of radiation exposure and a mechanistic understanding of resultant biological effects by investigating the underlying mechanisms involved. A key aim is to see whether what we know from experiments on animals and plants in the laboratory is a good representation of what happens in the real world.

Component 4: multi-disciplinary training of a cohort of PDRA and PhDs in a wide range of essential skills through controlled laboratory studies and working in contaminated environments, to provide trained, experienced researchers who are well networked within the UK and internationally through the contacts of the investigators and renew UK capacity in environmental radioactivity.

For more information please visit the TREE project website.

Research Consortia and Collaborators:

PhD research

Post-doctoral research


Centre for Ecology and  Hydrology
Lancaster University
Nottingham University Logo

Portsmouth University
Plymouth University
Public Health England
Stirling University

Scottish Environment Protection Agency
University of West England