The UIB monitors environmental radioactivity levels

Environmental radioactivity laboratory at the UIBThe University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) works with the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN) detecting any abnormal variations in the level of naturally occurring radioactivity in the environment. This task of monitoring is done by the Environmental Radioactivity Laboratory (LaboRA) at the UIB, a scientific and technical unit in charge of supporting research, development and teaching in the field of environmental radioactivity measurements.

Naturally radioactivity

Radioactivity is a phenomenon that occurs naturally in the environment. Humans receive cosmic radiation from space and radiation from the Earth, and also ingest every day products that contain radioactive substances in minimun quantities. Even the human body contains radioactive elements like Carbon 14 and Potassium 40. This natural radiation depends on numerous factors, including where you live, the composition of the soil, the building materials, the season of the year, latitude and, to some extent, the weather.

The laboratory of the UIB is integrated into the network of sampling stations of the CSN, the Spanish National Agency in charge of evaluation and control of nuclear and radioactive installations and control and monitoring of radioactivity levels. This surveillance allows to control the radiological quality of the environment. In addition, when necessary, as in the case of an accident that releases radioactive material into the environment, the surveillance provides information on the dispersion of radioactive material throughout the territory in order to take appropriate protective measures.

Radiometric Map of the Balearic Islands

Among the tasks performed by the laboratory, it stands out the development, in 2009, of the radiometric map of the Balearics Islands for the CSN in the framework of Natural Gamma Radiation Map (MARNA) project, which aims to evaluate natural gamma radiation levels in Spain to estimate exposure to natural radiation sources. The results are useful for epidemiological studies designed to investigate the effects produced, by themselves or in conjunction with other factors, by low radiation doses received over the time; evaluation and control of increases of background radiation due to natural causes; optimizing the selection of suitable sites for equipment radiation measurement; the estimation of absorbed dose rates and equivalent dose affecting the population in relation to their habits of life, and the estimation of radon emission potential from soils based on available complementary geological and meteorological information.

Research and samples analysis

The researchers have developed studies about radionuclides distribution in environmental samples from the Balearic Islands and, more recently, a research in the field of automation of radiochemical separation methods applied to environmental samples with very low activities. As a result of this research, they have produced twenty-four publications in international journals with high impact index, books and editions of the CSN. In addition, they have submitted forty-seven communications in national and international conferences and directed two PhD thesis and three master’s degree projects.

The laboratory also provides services to internal and external users of the University for the analysis of samples of environmental radioactivity. For example, the laboratory carries out the determination of radioisotopes in soil and sediment samples to establish sedimentation and erosion processes and for dating controls. They also develop radiation sensors to design personal and area dosimeters. Finally they also measure the parameters for radioactivity in drinking and bottled water, as established in current regulations.

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