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Fission and radiation protection

Environmental Risk from Ionising Contaminants: Assessment and Management

In recent years, a large number of activities have been undertaken to include effects of ionising radiation on animals, plants and ecosystems in the system of radiological protection. The European Commission supported two projects within the Fifth Euratom Framework Programme: one on the development of a general framework for environmental impact assessments for European ecosystems (FASSET); and a framework for Arctic ecosystems (EPIC). The ERICA project – Environmental Risk from Ionising Contaminants – Assessment and Management – builds on these two experiences and goes beyond their remit to involve active participation of stakeholders. The accumulated expertise will be applied in a number of case studies and includes risk and management elements.

Assessing and managing environmental impact of radiation

ERICA will provide an integrated approach that will demonstrate the pathway from exposure to radioactive substances, to possible effects (assessment) on animals, plants and ecosystems, to measuring and estimating risk (risk characterisation), and finally to deciding what to do (management). The project will build on the achievements of the FASSET project which provided a framework for the assessment of the environmental impact of radionuclides. The objective of ERICA is to provide an integrated approach to scientific, managerial and societal issues concerned with the environmental effects of contaminants emitting ionising radiation, with emphasis on biota and ecosystems.

The project consortium comprises 15 partners which can be grouped in a number of categories: national regulators, industry, research institutes, and universities. The wide range of partners, bringing together the experience of over 50 scientists, provides the necessary strength and expertise to achieve the project goals. In addition, ERICA involves the participation of a wide range of organisations in an ‘endusers group - EUG’ that represents different interests and stakeholders’ views.

The five project work packages (WPs) to construct the ERICA integrated approach) © Courtesy: Swedish Radiation Protection Authority
The five project work packages (WPs) to construct the ERICA integrated approach)
© Courtesy: Swedish Radiation Protection Authority

Risk characterisation, case studies, science-based management tools

The project is divided into five activities. A range of user-friendly assessment tools will be used to estimate exposure of animals, plants and ecosystems to radionuclides in a wide variety of situations, and to identify possible effects. The level of risk will be measured and estimated from the effects described by the assessment tools. The riskcharacterisation work will be supported by some experiments and by consideration of extrapolation issues – for example, how to describe the risk to a whole population of animals once you have estimated the risk to a single animal. The methodologies developed under FASSET and ERICA will be applied to five case studies, the results of which will be used to provide feedback on data gaps and other problems requiring consideration.

From the information derived from risk assessment and characterisation and the experiences obtained in the case studies, a communication strategy will be formulated aimed at decision-makers. This will include a communications exercise with stakeholders from outside the ERICA consortium. From this interaction, practical guidance will be provided for decision-makers. The development of science-based managerial guidance, including methodologies for stakeholder involvement in assessments, will be based on a number of meetings with end-users representing a range of different interests, who have agreed to participate in ERICA. The meetings will be concerned with different scientific and managerial aspects of assessments, including the development of methodologies to derive standards. The overarching management task for the project is to help formulate the ERICA integrated approach, based on the work produced from the various individual tasks. The project will conclude with a workshop where training in the use of the ERICA integrated approach will be carried out for stakeholders and end-users. The event will be open to all stakeholders. It is hoped that people will then be able to train other users in their own countries.

Exposure tools and guidelines, integrated approach

Following the generic framework for assessing environmental impacts, developed under FASSET, ERICA will expand into risk characterisation and decision-making. The ERICA integrated approach will consist of a set of tools and guidelines, involving software to calculate exposure of selected target organisms to radionuclides released into the environment; software and databases to assist the assessment of biological effects in those target organisms; and guidelines as to the wider interpretation of implications of such effects – both from an ecosystem perspective and from a societal perspective – supported by guidelines for risk characterisation, decision-making and methodologies for stakeholder consultations. The final outcome of the project will be the ERICA integrated approach to assessment and management of environmental risks from ionising radiation, using and providing practical user-friendly tools.

The ERICA integrated approach will be refined through its testing in a number of realistic situations, and will also involve testing of the assessment framework delivered by FASSET. The result will be a state-of-the-art approach that deals with both ecological and societal aspects of environmental radiation, supported by practical tools and guidelines. The progress of the project can be followed through an e-newsletter. The resulting documentation will also be published on the ERICA website.

Assist policy-making, support environmental standards

The ERICA project will provide the scientific reasoning as well as the broad societal views, which can direct policy-making at the European Union level. The end-users group will aim to reflect the views of the wider European and global community. ERICA may act as a way to guide future European Directives, which may require the implementation of standards to protect the environment from the impact of ionising contaminants. The ERICA integrated approach will be tested at a number of sites and in a wide range of environments receiving radioactive substances from man-made or natural sources.

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