Radioactivity and the Environment

TREE PhD's

Advancing the measurement of the radiation exposure in large mammals

Phakphum Aramrun, Salford University

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Assessing Impact of Ionising Radiation on Molluscs

Emily Vernon, Plymouth University

Adopting an integrated approach and working in an interdisciplinary environment, this studentship will aim to apply a range of biological and analytical tools to assess the impact of ionising radiations on bivalve species (freshwater and marine). Following exposure of the organisms to a range of radionuclides of differing emission characteristics, a series of laboratory assays will be used to investigate the responses. Particular emphasis will be given to determination the induction of DNA damage, expression of key genes and their knock-on effects at higher levels of biological organisation. Following laboratory-based studies, it is aimed to determine the radiation responses in samples collected from contaminated environments.

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Effects of radiation on aquatic invertebrates: combining field studies in lakes of varying contamination at Chernobyl with laboratory experiments

Neil Fuller, Portsmouth University

This 3.5 year studentship will investigate the effects of ionising radiation on invertebrate crustaceans. The effects of chronic low-dose radiation on organisms are much less clear than the effects of acute high-dose radiation, in part because there have been few field studies following long-term exposure in contaminated environments. Understanding the effects of chronic low-dose irradiation on invertebrates is vital for assessing the effects of planned or accidental releases of radioactivity to aquatic ecosystems. This project will combine laboratory exposures with field sampling to observe the effects of chronic ionising radiation on the development, reproductive fertility, DNA damage and genetic diversity of crustacean populations.

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Elucidating the interaction between anti-oxidants and radiation-induced damage to cells to build a model of the causes of low-level radiation effects

Nicol Caplin, University of the West of England

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Evaluating the bioavailability of radionuclides in contaminated soil using the Diffusive Gradients in Thin films technique

Alex Chapman, Lancaster University

A key environmental challenge currently facing us is dealing with land contaminated with radioactive substances through the consequences of accidents (e.g. Fukushima and Chernobyl), past practices using radioactivity and planning for the disposal of nuclear waste arising from current and future nuclear power generation. However, to appropriately address contaminated land issues, we need to understand how radionuclides behave in the soil system. One aspect of environmental behaviour that requires further work is our appreciation of radionuclide bioavailability. Simple assessment has proved elusive because procedures have not considered the in situ speciation and dynamic supply from solid phase to solution. Diffusive Gradients in Thin films (DGT) is a well-established in-situ speciation technique for measuring mobile trace metals in water, soils and sediments. When deployed in soil, DGT has been shown to be a good predictor of metal concentrations in plants. However only limited radionuclide work has been conducted investigating DGT performance.

The aims of this studentship are to develop the DGT technique for the assessment of radionuclides in soils to (i) advance our understanding of radionuclide-soil binding and release kinetics and (ii) move towards the development of a rapid test for radionuclide bioavailability. The short-term behaviour of radionuclide contaminants and the kinetics of solid-solution partitioning in soils will be tested using soils that have been amended with radionuclides. Plant uptake experiments will allow comparison of plant and DGT data for the range of soil types under investigation, using both lab and field contaminated soils, and a mixture of pot and lysimeter experiments.

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New methods for determining radionuclides in wildlife: new detectors for live-monitoring

Ross Fawkes, Salford University

This project presents an exciting opportunity to undertake world-leading research on the development of methods to determine radionuclides in living wildlife.

In the UK, the focus of most radiological environmental risk assessments is protected species and habitats in compliance with the EC Birds & Habitats Directives. To support and provide confidence in these assessments, there is a need to develop detector technologies to determine gamma emitting radionuclides in living organisms. Developing new approaches to measuring activity concentrations in vertebrate wildlife, this studentship will focus on vertebrates. The study species will be those that do not have a high conservation status because method development will require some destructive analysis. The focus will be on measuring whole-body activity concentrations of gamma emitting radionuclides in different species of wildlife, which will require short analysis times to reduce stress on the organisms. The early development of the live monitoring technique will use phantoms (representative geometries of densities similar to living organisms, with known radionuclide activity concentrations). The prototype detector will then be piloted through field application in the UK, where radionuclides in the organisms are likely to be low. The student will also have the opportunity to participate in field research in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone where the use of live-monitoring faces the problem of high environmental activity concentrations.

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The ecological impacts of radiation on terrestrial invertebrates using laboratory and field studies

Katherine Raines, Stirling University

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Understanding the mechanisms of interaction between anionic radionuclides (129I, 79Se and 99Tc) and geocolloids

Heather Sanders, University of Nottingham

Project Aim: To develop predictive models for the fate of 129I, 79Se and 99Tc in soils and aquatic systems by resolving underlying mechanisms and reaction rates.

There is a substantial gap in our understanding of the immediate and longer-term reactions of selected radionuclides in terrestrial and aquatic systems. This project will address these reaction mechanisms for selected radionuclides and soil components. A range of techniques including size exclusion chromatography (SEC) linked to ICP-MS and X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) will be applied to investigate the interactions of 129I, 79Se and 99Tc with geocolloids including Fe, Al and Mn-oxides and humic substances. Time-dependent changes in speciation (chemical form and redox state) will be monitored as the isotopes are progressively incorporated into native organic pools to elucidate reaction mechanisms and rates. Results will be quantified using geochemical speciation models and by direct measurement of mass/charge balance. A model will be developed predicting the fate of I, Se and Tc released from underground sources (e.g. radioactive waste repositories) and aerially deposited loads.

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Understanding the relative importance of genetic and epigenetic factor in determining radiation-induced damage in Daphnia pulex

Jessica Goodman, Stirling University

Project aim: To further our understanding of the impacts of long term radiation exposure on Daphnia Pulex in the natural environment, and determine whether laboratory exposures can be used to predict these impacts.

Following the 2011 accident at Fukushima: we urgently need new evidence to inform ongoing UK and international (International Atomic Energy Agency and International Commission on Radiation Protection) initiatives in this area. The student will gain experience of conducting irradiation experiments under controlled conditions and with undertaking fieldwork in contaminated environments such as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The selected student will be trained in conducting measures of DNA methylation, gene expression and data analysis and, will be working on biological effects, specifically on biomarker and physiological assays for determining the level of impact of the radiation. This research will contribute greatly to our understanding of the genetic and epigenetic factors which control the impact of radiation and other stressors on organisms. Furthermore this will advance our knowledge of the role that epigenetic effect may play in adaptation to local environmental conditions.

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