The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) is one of the most radioactively contaminated sites in the world. The area is highly heterogeneously contaminated by a number of radionuclides including 137Cs, 90Sr, 241Am and Pu- isotopes (See spatial dataset for CEZ). Established shortly after the accident in 1986, the CEZ was initially the area within the 30 km radius around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, although, over the last 25 years the borders have expanded. The Ukrainian area (approximately 2600 km2) contains forests, abandoned farmlands, wetlands, flowing and standing waters, deserted villages and urban areas. The Belarusian area (approximately 2160 km2) consists mainly of swamps, marshes and peat-bogs. Forest occupies about one half of the Belarusian territory; areas not forested are mostly former agricultural lands and meadows.
The CEZ is relatively flat (approximately 100-200 m above sea level) and the Pripyat River, a main tributary of the Dnieper, runs through the zone for about 80 km. The climate is temperate-continental with the growing period beginning around mid-April and ending in late October; snow cover remains for about 80 days, with significant deviations in some years. Photographs courtesy of TREE project http://tree.ceh.ac.uk/
The area is species rich with more than 400 species of vertebrate animals, including 67 ichthyoids, 11 amphibians, 7 reptilians, 251 birds and 73 mammals; many being listed in Ukrainian and European Red Books.
Why is the CEZ a radioecological observatory?
The CEZ has many features making it an important radioecological site, including:
- Contamination levels are such that the behaviour/transfer/mobility of a number of radionuclides can be studied (137Cs, 90Sr, 241Am, Pu-isotopes, U-isotopes, 129I, 14C and 99Tc ).
- The presence of ‘hot particles’ means that their behaviour in the environment can be studied.
- Dose rates remain sufficiently high that we may expect to observe effects on wildlife in some areas. Published results on radiation effects from the CEZ are contentious with a lack of agreement on interpretation amongst scientists.
- A wide range of species and habitats are present.
Am-241 predicted deposition for year 2000
Cs-137 predicted deposition for year 2000
Pu-239/240 predicted deposition for year 2000
COMET activities in the CEZ
COMET partners have collaborated to conducted studies on radionuclide transfer to wildlife and agricultural products, and also radiation effects to a range of wildlife species (frogs, earthworms and plants).
|Sampling sites for CEZ used by COMET|
COMET also ran a field course for student in the CEZ and also a focussed workshop on effects of radiation on the environment in the CEZ (a special issue of Journal Environmental Radioactivity is in preparation based upon the workshop).
ALLIANCE partners have plans for conducting collaborative studies within the CEZ until at least the end of 2019:
- Studies on the effects of radiation on birds (focusing on corticosterone in feathers as a non-invasive biomarker) – a PhD studentship co-supervised by NERC-CEH, IRSN and the University of Stirling (with the Chornobyl Center collaborating);
- CONFIDENCE project (funded under H2020 via the CONCERT project; http://www.concert-h2020.eu/) – CONFIDENCE will use the CEZ in studies of hot particles and to validate Sr models. ALLIANCE members are NERC-CEH (work package leader), NMBU, NRPA, SCK·CEN, Ciemat and the University of Extremadura (with NUBIP collaborating);
- RED FIRE (funded by the UK Natural Environmental Research Council) – RED FIRE is focused on the aftermath of the July 2016 Red Forest fire investigating the effects of radiation on ecosystem recovery and the effect of fire on radionuclide mobility. RED FIRE is led by ALLIANCE member NERC-CEH with NMBU collaborating along with the Universities of Salford and Nottingham, NUBIP and Chornobyl Center.
Additionally, ALLIANCE partners will be involved in national studies in the CEZ over the forthcoming years.
CEZ related open data from ALLIANCE members and COMET partners
- Spatial datasets for the Exclusion Zone: radionuclide deposition, soil properties and land use – under preparation due 2017 (more information)
- Radionuclide activity concentrations in wildlife – under preparation due 2017
- Soil function dataset – under preparation due 2017
Publications on studies in the CEZ by ALLIANCE members and COMET partners
- Effects on wildlife
- Hot particles
- Human foodchain
- Soil and radionuclide deposition
- Transfer of radionuclides to wildlife
- Urban radioecology
ALLIANCE contact for the CEZ: Prof. Nick Beresford