© 2015 Association of Ecosystem Research Centers

AERC: Association of Ecosystem Research Centers 2016 Meeting

The Role of Radioecology in National Security
AERC Congressional Briefing, Washington, DC

October 06, 2016

Thomas G. Hinton Dr. Thomas Glenn Hinton
Professor, Institute of Environmental Radioactivity Fukushima University, Japan
“The Hidden Roles of Radioecology in National Security: Why Radioecology Matters” (PDF)

BIO: Dr. Hinton is a professor at the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity, Fukushima University, Japan. He earned his Ph.D. in radioecology from Colorado State University in 1989, and conducted studies of environmental radioactivity from the Chernobyl accident while staffed at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. As a research scientist for the University of Georgia, Dr. Hinton directed a radioecology laboratory on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River Site for 17 years. He then returned to Europe for six years to work with the French Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, where he was the Coordinator of the first European Network of Excellence in Radioecology (STAR), a consortium composed of 11 organizations from 10 countries. Within STAR, Dr. Hinton led the development of the first discipline-wide, strategic research agenda for radioecology. Dr. Hinton routinely consults for the International Atomic Energy Agency and was a co-author of the agency’s Chernobyl Forum report tasked with summarizing the environmental effects of the Chernobyl accident. For eight years he was the Associate Editor for the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity. His research is ranked by ResearchGate, a professional network of scientists, to be among the top 5 percent of its 10 million members.

ABSTRACT: Humans the world-over have found wide and varied uses for radioactive emissions, ranging from life-extending medicinal applications and the peaceful generation of energy, to weapons of mass destruction. Radiation, when contained, is not problematic. It is only when released to the environment that radioactive materials potentially threaten the ability of people to safely live their lives and for nations to thrive and experience economic prosperity. Environmental releases of radionuclides can occur from medical facilities, operating nuclear power plants, waste storage facilities, legacy contamination from nuclear weapons testing, accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, as well as nuclear weapons. Once released, the myriad of potential interactions between the radioactive contaminant and components of the environment are astounding. Imagine a radioactive contaminant plume passing over a landscape of small towns, lakes, agricultural fields, and urban sprawl. How much of the contaminant will be depleted from the plume as it passes overhead? To what extent will rain or snow impact the contaminant’s deposition? If deposition occurs, how much contamination will be in the air you breathe, the food you eat, or the water you drink? How much radioactivity will metropolitan commuters track into their suburban homes at day’s end? How long will such processes take and how will the contaminant’s initial dispersal be changed over the next month, year, or decade? What are the risks to humans and the environment? Are contaminant levels high enough to warrant intervention? Such knowledge is the expertise of radioecologists, whose multidisciplinary science uses nuclear physics, chemistry, biology, toxicology, ecology and risk analyses to predict the movement and potential effects of radioactive contaminants on humans and the environment. Radioecology is thus an essential part of national security. The results of radioecological research support decision makers concerned with determining the fate and effects of radioactive releases into the environment. The viability of radioecology in the U.S., however, is threatened by declining educational support and the aging of its practitioners, most of whom will soon reach retirement age. Any society that uses nuclear products, that stockpiles nuclear weapons, is concerned about terrorist threats to the homeland, and retains a nuclear power industry, must maintain its knowledge of environmental radiation in order to maintain national security.

Francois Brechignac Dr. François Bréchignac
Former President of the International Union of Radioecology
Deputy Scientific Director at the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (France)
“Radioecology and our Future: Radioecology’s Contribution to Preserving Ecosystem Health” (PDF)

BIO: Dr. Bréchignac served as President of the International Union of Radioecology (IUR) for 10 years, and is currently Deputy Scientific Director at the Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), a 1,700 staff public expert institution advising governmental authorities on all matters related to nuclear safety and radiation protection in France. He started his career conducting fundamental research at the French Atomic Energy Commission. Recruited next at the European Space Agency in its Space Research and Technology Centre, he was responsible for the development and coordination of technology research programmes for space biology. He served as Head of the Institute of Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety’s (IRSN) Experimental Radioecology Laboratory, where he directed a team of researchers focused on radioecological issues of the consequences of a nuclear accident on the environment. In 2003, he took responsibility for maintaining and promoting scientific excellence for the Institute’s 350 researchers. He was promoted to Deputy Scientific Director in 2010. Meanwhile, he continuously committed himself to promote international environmental protection research projects. During this period, he has been particularly engaged in promoting a strategic evolution within the radioecology community to expand its expertise towards environmental and ecological risk assessment. He has published nearly 100 publications as well as roughly 50 technical and expertise reports. He served many years as Associate Editor of Journal of Environmental Radioactivity that he closely linked to IUR.

ABSTRACT: The potential ecological impact of radiation resulting from nuclear accidents or potential malevolent actions has become a global environmental concern. Indeed, despite three major accidents (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima), nuclear activities and their associated issues with disposal of nuclear waste continue to spread throughout the world, often in countries with limited or no expertise for assessment of environmental risks. This is especially critical when realizing that unplanned dispersion of radioactivity over large areas no longer can be considered as unlikely. It is therefore crucial to maintain worldwide expertise in radioecology to ensure that we have the operational capacity to face legacy and future risks. The International Union of Radioecology, a non-governmental and non-profit international association of nearly 1,500 members representing 58 countries is committed to ensuring “the sustainable development of nuclear activities with respect to man, the environment and future generations”. IUR develops its actions in four main directions: networking, teaching and training, communication, and brainstorming, that are further supplemented via a number of agreements signed with various thematic or regional networks dealing with radioactivity and the environment. On this basis, IUR has engaged in a cycle of intensive brainstorming in order to identify how best to improve our limited understanding of the actual ecological impacts of radiation. In particular, the IUR has gone beyond the traditional lines of thinking in human radioprotection, which involve radiobiological inferences at the individual organism level, to embrace ecosystem approaches, featuring consideration of populations and interspecies interactions, as being necessary for adequate ecological risk assessment. The IUR and its member organizations are working to develop an ecocentric vision for radioprotection which conceptualizes how human health is also bound to ecosystem health, with an emphasis on the potential degradation of ecosystem health via radiological contamination. In order to develop and achieve this vision however, the Union together with many of its member organizations around the world, is currently concerned by the growing lack of effort to train the next generation of radioecologists.

Olin E. Rhodes, Jr. Dr. Olin E. Rhodes, Jr.
Director of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory Professor, Odum School of Ecology, University of Georgia
“Radioecology in Practice: Examples from the Savannah River Site” (PDF)

BIO: Dr. Rhodes is Director of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, as well as a Professor in the Odum School of Ecology and an Adjunct Professor in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. Dr. Rhodes previously served as the Assistant Director for the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. At NWRC Dr. Rhodes supervised research programs involving over 170 research scientists, biologists, and technicians working in the areas of wildlife diseases, invasive species, and human-wildlife interactions in agricultural ecosystems. Prior to his employment by the USDA, Dr. Rhodes was a Professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University, where he served on the faculty for 15 years. At Purdue, he was designated as a Purdue University Faculty Scholar and served as both the Chair of the Graduate Council in Agriculture and as the Director of the Purdue Interdisciplinary Center for Ecological Sustainability. In his career he has published over 200 peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and book chapters and trained over 30 graduate students and postdocs. As director of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, Dr. Rhodes oversees 108 staff and students working in the areas of radioecology, ecotoxicology, environmental remediation, environmental stewardship and basic ecology. The mission of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory is to serve as an independent evaluator on the ecological effects of the Department of Energy’s nuclear and national security missions on the Savannah River Site.

ABSTRACT: Researchers at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) have been conducting research and education activities in the discipline of radioecology for over 60 years. Initially titled the Laboratory of Radiation Ecology, SREL has been an international hub of research on the fate and effects of radionuclides and other environmental contaminants for over six decades, publishing well over 200 of its more than 3,300 scientific articles and books on the topic of radioecology. Over the years, numerous SREL studies have characterized the distribution of radionuclides in contaminated environments and their occurrence in various ecosystem components such as soils, water, vegetation, fish and wildlife. Information gained from these studies has been important for defining existing conditions and for designing additional research to generate fundamental knowledge about radionuclides, the factors that control their distribution and cycling in space and over time, and reducing the risk they may pose to ecosystems and humans. Such research has shown the importance of seasonal variables in the cycling of radionuclides, the various factors that influence radionuclide uptake in agroecosystems, the role of resuspension in transferring soil-borne contaminants onto plant surfaces, and the influence of animals in transporting radionuclides from a contaminated site. The research conducted by SREL faculty, staff and students exemplifies the role of radioecology in U.S. national security, as ecological and radioecology research conducted at the laboratory provide critical information to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), DOE contractors and local communities concerning the environmental impacts of legacy wastes and ongoing nuclear missions on the Savannah River Site. Utilizing independent, high quality research published by SREL faculty, decision making regarding environmental cleanup, environmental remediation and ongoing impacts to environmental health associated with nuclear missions critical to national security can be made in an informed manner that has a solid scientific foundation and is supported by the local communities in the region.