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University of Bristol researchers have provided the nuclear power sector with critical evidence to strengthen public and environmental safety.


Traditionally, mapping of radioactive contamination relies on radioactive decay counting methods which do not provide the sensitivity and specificity to support effective decision making. In 2011, the catastrophic release of radiation during the Fukushima disaster led to the evacuation of over 110,000 local citizens from ‘required to leave’ areas and an additional 49,000 from surrounding areas.



The University of Bristol research optimised chemical separation and multi-collector mass spectrometry protocols to focus on low abundance isotopes of plutonium, caesium and uranium for challenging environmental samples, such as coastal sediments and organic materials. Following the disaster in Fukushima in 2011, they designed survey methods and sampling schemes to assess the spatial pattern of radioactivity in the fallout zone, deploying autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with miniaturised radiation detectors.



The research team provided supporting evidence to EDF for a case that detailed the very low abundance of the radioactive elements caesium and plutonium in Severn Estuary sediments and the insignificant threat to public health from planned dredging. The disposal licence was not suspended.

This work has enabled the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to better establish the sequence of events that occurred in the reactors; estimate the state, properties, and chemistry of the fuel – crucial to its future mechanical removal; inform local citizens of its environmental hazard; and validate estimates as to the condition of the internal reactor pressure vessel/primary containment vessel, which together house the damaged fuel assemblies.

The Fukushima evidence was used by local governments and municipalities to either delay or expedite repopulation activities.

 More information

Institution: University of Bristol 

Researchers: Professor David Richards, Professor Dan Lunt, Professor Andy Ridgwell, Professor Thomas Scott, Dr Peter Martin

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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) (2023) Novel approaches to improve nuclear safety in Europe and Japan. Available at  Last accessed on: <date>