Transfer, exposure, effects: understanding radioactivity in the environment

Researchers from CRIB are part of a consortium investigating the movement and effects radioactivity in the environment. The aim is to improve significantly predictions of radionuclide behaviour so that safety assessments have a secure scientific basis. The consortium is part of the NERC Radioactivity and The Terrestrial Environment (RATE) programme.

Dr Neil Willey, Eleni Siasou and Nicol Caplin are CRIB researchers in the TREE consortium funded through NERC's RATE programme, which includes significant funding from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (Radioactive Waste Management) and the Environment Agency. The consortium includes the Lancaster Environment Centre, the Universities of Lancaster, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Salford, Stirling and Plymouth, and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre. It also has ten international partners and 30 international associates. In total the consortium has four PDRAs and seven PhD students.

Dr Eleni Siasou is a PDRA based at UWE Bristol who works on the phylogenetic constraints on radionuclide uptake by plants. We have identified phylogenetic constraints on the uptake of a number of radionuclides and Eleni is concentrating on improving our predictions of those of particular importance in radioactive waste repositories. Identifying the phylogenetic constraints enables us to make predictions, based on taxonomic groups, of how much radionuclide will be transferred up into plants if they are ever exposed to it. This predictive capacity is important because it's unlikely that we'll ever be able to measure uptake in any more than a small proportion of plant species. We are also researching the similarity in patterns of uptake of different radionuclides and stable elements to test whether the soil-plant transfer of different radioisotopes can be predicted in concert. For this research, we work with the University of Nottingham, who are researching predictive models of soil behaviour of radionuclides, and the Lancaster Environment Centre who are investigating phylogenetic effects in other groups of organisms.

Nicol Caplin is a PhD student on the project who works on the effects of ionising radiation (IR) on plants. The effects of chronic low-level radiation on plants are a matter of some dispute and Nicol's research aims to help clarify these effects. We have previously investigated the genomic and proteomic effects of IR exposure in Arabidopsis and developed a theoretical model of the oxidative effects of low-level IR in cells. Nicol is using a novel hydroponic system to investigate morphological/anatomical effects of IR on plants, especially roots, and is trying to link these to effects on anti-oxidant systems. This will tie together much previous work on IR exposure to aid the understanding low-level radiation effects. We work with the Universities of Stirling, Plymouth and Portsmouth who are investigating the effects of IR on other organisms.

Further information can be found on the TREE website, including photos from the Chernobyl webcams being used by some of the consortium members.

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