Helgoländer Meeresuntersuchungen

, Volume 33, Issue 1–4, pp 122–137 | Cite as

Marine disposal of radioactive wastes

  • D. S. Woodhead
Heavy-Metal Pollution


In a general sense, the main attraction of the marine environment as a repository for the wastes generated by human activities lies in the degree of dispersion and dilution which is readily attainable. However, the capacity of the oceans to receive wastes without unacceptable consequences is clearly finite and this is even more true of localized marine environments such as estuaries, coastal waters and semi-enclosed seas. Radionuclides have always been present in the marine environment and marine organisms and humans consuming marine foodstuffs have always been exposed, to some degree, to radiation from this source. The hazard associated with ionizing radiations is dependent upon the absorption of energy from the radiation field within some biological entity. Thus any disposal of radioactive wastes into the marine environment has consequences, the acceptability of which must be assessed in terms of the possible resultant increase in radiation exposure of human and aquatic populations. In the United Kingdom the primary consideration has been and remains the safe-guarding of public health. The control procedures are therefore designed to minimize as far as practicable the degree of human exposure within the overall limits recommended as acceptable by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. There are several approaches through which control could be exercised and the strengths and weaknesses of each are considered. In this review the detailed application of the critical path technique to the control of the discharge into the north-east Irish Sea from the fuel reprocessing plant at Windscale is given as a practical example. It will be further demonstrated that when human exposure is controlled in this way no significant risk attaches to the increased radiation exposure experienced by populations of marine organisms in the area.


Marine Environment Radioactive Waste Marine Organism Human Exposure Critical Path 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Literature cited

  1. Dunster, H. J., 1958. The disposal of radioactive liquid wastes into coastal waters. In: Proceedings of the Second United Nations International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy.18: Waste treatment and environmental aspects of atomic energy. United Nations, Geneva, 390–399.Google Scholar
  2. Dunster, H. J., Garner, R. J., Howells, H. & Wix, L. F. U., 1964. Environmental monitoring associated with the discharge of low activity radioactive waste from Windscale Works to the Irish Sea. — Hlth Phys.10, 353–362.Google Scholar
  3. Foster, R. F., Ophel, I. L. & Preston, A., 1971. Evaluation of human radiation exposure. In: Radioactivity in the marine environment. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, 240–260.Google Scholar
  4. Hershberger, W. K., Bonham, K. & Donaldson, L. R., 1978. Chronic exposure of chinook salmon eggs and alevins to gamma irradiation: effects on their return to freshwater as adults. — Trans. Am. Fish. Soc.107, 622–631.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Hetherington, J. A., Jefferies, D. F., Mitchell, N. T., Pentreath, R. J. & Woodhead, D. S., 1976. Environmental and public health consequences of the controlled disposal of transuranic elements to the marine environment. In: Transuranium nuclides in the environment. IAEA Symposium, San Francisco, 17–21 November 1975. IAEA, Vienna, 139–153.Google Scholar
  6. Hyodo-Taguchi, Y. & Egami, N., 1977. Damage to spermatogenic cells in fish kept in tritiated water. — Radiat. Res.71, 641–652.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. IAEA, 1976. Effects of ionizing radiation on aquatic organisms and ecosystems. — Tech. Rep. Ser. IAEA172, 1–131.Google Scholar
  8. IAEA, 1978. Principles for establishing limits for the release of radioactive materials into the environment. — Saf. Ser., IAEA45, 1–91.Google Scholar
  9. ICRP, 1960. Report of Committee II on Permissible Dose for Internal Radiation. — Int. Commn on radiol. Protect. Publ.2, 1–233.Google Scholar
  10. ICRP, 1964. Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (As amended 1959 and revised 1962). — Int. Commn radiol Protect. Publ.6, 1–70.Google Scholar
  11. ICRP, 1966. Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (Adopted 17 September, 1965). — Int. Commn radiol. Protect. Publ.9, 1–27.Google Scholar
  12. ICRP, 1977. Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (Adopted 17 January, 1977). — Ann. int. Commn radiol. Protect.1 (3), 1–53. (Zugl.: Int. Commn radiol. Protect. Publ. 26.)Google Scholar
  13. Mauchline, J. & Templeton, W. L., 1964. Artificial and natural radioisotopes in the marine environment. — Oceanogr. mar. Biol.2, 229–279.Google Scholar
  14. Mitchell, N. T., 1973. Radioactivity in surface and coastal waters of the British Isles, 1971. — Tech. Rep. Fish. radiobiol. Lab., Lowestoft9, 1–34.Google Scholar
  15. Mitchell, N. T., 1977. Radioactivity in surface and coastal waters of the British Isles, 1976. Part I: The Irish Sea and its environs. — Tech. Rep. Fish. radiobiol. Lab., Lowestoft13, 1–13.Google Scholar
  16. Preston, A., 1969. Aquatic monitoring programmes. In: Environmental contamination by radioactive materials. IAEA Symposium, Vienna, 24–28 March 1969. IAEA, Vienna, 309–324.Google Scholar
  17. Preston, A., 1971. The United Kingdom approach to the application of ICRP standards to the controlled disposal of radioactive waste resulting from nuclear power programs. In: Environmental aspects of nuclear power stations. IAEA Symposium, New York, 10–14 August 1970. IAEA, Vienna, 147–157.Google Scholar
  18. Seligman, H., 1955. The discharge of radioactive waste products into the Irish Sea. Part I. First experiments for the study of movement and dilution of released dye in the sea. In: Proceedings of the International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. United Nations, Geneva,9, 701–711.Google Scholar
  19. Woodhead, D. S., 1970. The assessment of the radiation dose to developing fish embryos due to the accumulation of radioactivity by the egg. — Radiat. Res.43, 582–597.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Woodhead, D. S., 1973a. Levels of radioactivity in the marine environment and the dose commitment to marine organisms. In: Radioactive contamination of the marine environment. IAEA Symposium, Seattle, 10–14 July 1972. IAEA, Vienna, 499–525.Google Scholar
  21. Woodhead, D. S., 1973b. The radiation dose received by plaice(Pleuronectes platessa) from the waste discharged into the north-east Irish Sea from the fuel reprocessing plant at Windscale. — Hlth Phys.25, 115–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Woodhead, D. S., 1977. The effects of chronic irradiation on the breeding performance of the guppy,Poecilia reticulata (Osteichthyes: Teleostei). — Int. J. Radiat. Biol.32, 1–22.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Biologische Anstalt Helgoland 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. S. Woodhead
    • 1
  1. 1.Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Fisheries Radiobiological LaboratoryLowestoftUK

Personalised recommendations