Environmental Radiation Protection
(ERP) Curriculum

Introduction to Radioecology (3 hrs)

Instructor: Gary Mills

Course Description:

This course will be an introduction to the fates and effects of radionuclides (radioactive isotopes) and their environmental impacts. The topics will include: natural and anthropogenic sources of radionuclides, the modes of their dispersal, accumulation, and sequestration in the environment, the physical and biological factors influencing their uptake, accumulation, and elimination by biota, and the effects of environmental radioactivity on populations, communities and ecosystems.

Class Schedule and Grading:

This three-week class will consist of five two-hour classes per week with lectures on Mondays and Tuesdays, Case Studies on Wednesdays, a field trip or lab demonstration on Thursdays, and discussions/exams on Fridays. Case study participation will comprise a large portion of the final grade. In addition, there will be one mid-term exam, a final exam, and a final group project. For this project, the students will undertake as a group an evaluation of a fictitious nuclear release. They will be expected to develop a preliminary response (e.g., the kinds of data to be collected and their priority) to the incident that will allow a characterization of the potential ecological effects and how they might be assessed and monitored over the long term.

Prerequisites:

Chem I and II, Calculus I and II, General Ecology, or approval from instructor

Course Innovation:

The case studies that will be presented illustrate the issues of radionuclide release across an increasing scale, both in terms of severity and complexity. The initial case study will involve a localized environmental release of 137Cs from a scrapped therapy source in Goiana, Brazil. The scenarios will progress through increasing levels of environmental impact, culminating in the catastrophic failure of the Chornobyl nuclear reactor in 1986 and its aftermath. The students will be expected to review these case histories, and be guided by the instructor in characterizing potential environmental and ecological impacts from these events.

The course will also include a field trip to Pond B of the Savannah River Site. This location has been extensively studied because it has experienced releases of radionuclides from SRS operations sufficient to allow easy measurement of radionuclides in the biota, but still low enough to permit a safe field experience. Onsite discussions will focus on the history of the site, the radioecological research that has occurred there, and the current and long-term management issues.

Preliminary Course Schedule:

Week 1:
MondayIntroduction to radioecology: natural and anthropogenic sources of radionuclides
TuesdayDispersion mechanisms of radionuclides in the environment
WednesdayCase Study 1 (release of 137CS from an irradiator in Goiana, Brazil) and Case Study 2 (partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania)
ThursdayPond B site visit
FridayDiscussion/Review
Week 2:
MondayBiochemical properties of radionuclides
TuesdayUptake, accumulation, and elimination of radionuclides by biota
WednesdayCase Study 3 (release of radionuclides from operations and after a fire at Sellafield/Windscale a commercial and weapons production facility in Great Britain) and Case Study 4 (comparison of nuclear weapons production at the Savannah River Site, USA and the Mayak complex, Russia)
ThursdayLab demonstration of radionuclide kinetics
FridayMid-term Exam/Discussion
Week 3:
MondayEffects of radiation exposure in aquatic and terrestrial organisms
TuesdayLong-term determination of radiation effects
WednesdayCase Study 5 (explosion of a nuclear waste storage tank at Kyshtym, Russia) and Case Study 6 (the explosion, fire and core meltdown at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine). A Case Study response to a hypothetical nuclear accident will be assigned.
ThursdayImplications of future nuclear activities
FridayFinal Exam/Course Evaluation
 

For registration information contact Dr. John Seaman, seaman(at)srel.uga.edu.