, Volume 44, Issue 3, pp 169-181
Date: 08 Oct 2005

Long-term development of the radionuclide exposure of murine rodent populations in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident

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Abstract

As a determinant of the associated health risks, the behavior of radionuclides in natural ecosystems needs to be better understood. Therefore, the activity concentration of various long-lived radionuclides released due to the Chernobyl accident, and the corresponding contributions to the whole-body dose rate, was studied as a function of time in mammalian indicator species inhabiting the natural forest ecosystems of Belarus, the bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) and the yellow-necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollus). The activity concentrations of 137Cs, 134Cs, 90Sr, 238Pu, 239,240Pu, 241Pu and 241Am in soil and in animals were measured at five monitoring sites with different ground deposition of radionuclides at different distances from the destroyed reactor. The observed temporal pattern of the radionuclide activity concentration in the studied animal populations reflects the changes in biological availability of these isotopes for biota, mostly due to fuel particle destruction and appearance of dissolved and exchangeable forms of radionuclides. The time course of 134+137Cs activity concentrations in animal populations appeared as a sequence of increase, peak and decrease. Maximal levels of radiocesium occurred 1–2 years after deposition, followed by an exponential decrease. Concentrations of incorporated 90Sr increased up to the tenth year after deposition. The activity concentrations of transuranic elements (238Pu, 239,240Pu, 241Pu and 241Am) were much lower than those of the other radionuclides, in the studied animals. A considerable activity of 241Am in animals from areas with high levels of contamination was firstly detected 5 years after deposition, it increased up to the tenth year and is expected to increase further in the future. Maximal values of the whole-body absorbed dose rates occurred during the year of deposition, followed by a decrease in the subsequent period. Generally, this decrease was monotonic, mainly determined by the decrease of the external γ-ray dose rate, but there were exceptions due to the delayed maximum of internal exposure. The inter-individual distributions of radionuclide concentrations and lifetime whole-body absorbed doses were asymmetric and close to log-normal, including concentrations and doses considerably higher than the population mean values.