Following a nuclear accident, two levels of response can be expected: immediate and short-term action, when the emergency services are at the fore; and medium- and long-term action, when issues such as the recovery of contaminated land need to be addressed. In the latter case, both urban and rural land might be involved and we need to try and ensure that acceptable living and working conditions are sustained by using practical, cost effective and acceptable restoration strategies for the different types of environment and land use.
The approach taken by a European project, STRATEGY, led by CEH was based on the use of datasheets for a wide range of countermeasures combined with a model to enable users to select optimal remediation strategies for the long-term sustainable management of contaminated areas. The data sheets incorporated a wide range of different factors which might affect the effectiveness, practicality and acceptability of each countermeasure. The datasheets now form part of the UK Radiation Recovery Handbook, which is part-funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The handbook, produced by the Health Protection Agency, is intended to provide management and mitigation information for the recovery of contaminated land once an incident has occurred.
One example scenario considered a hypothetical nuclear incident in Cumbria. The optimal combination of countermeasures suggested by the model resulted in a decrease in collective population exposure dose of over 90% while maintaining practical land use over a 10-year period. The optimised approach could reduce the costs of applying countermeasures from £2,300 million if using food restrictions alone (bans on contaminated foods) to £160 million.
‘The work is considered to be very high in importance’, according to Andy Dugdale of the FSA. ‘Recent emergency exercises have focused on recovery issues and the role of the handbook during discussions on options post-acute phase of an accident has been invaluable.’