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An Aerial Gamma Ray Survey of Springfields and the Ribble Estuary in September 1992

Sanderson, D.C.W., Allyson, J.D., Tyler, A.N., and Murphy, S. (1992) An Aerial Gamma Ray Survey of Springfields and the Ribble Estuary in September 1992. Technical Report. Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre.




A short aerial gamma ray survey was conducted in the vicinity of the Springfields site and Ribble Estuary from 1st-5th September 1992, to define existing background radiation levels, against which any future changes can be assessed. A twin engine AS 355 "Squirrel" helicopter chartered from Dollar Helicopters was used for this work. It was loaded with a 16 litre NaI(Tl) gamma ray detector and spectroscopy system on the 31st August and during the following days over 2700 separate spectra were recorded within a survey area of 20 x 12 km. Gamma ray spectra were recorded every 5 seconds at survey speed and altitude of 120 kph and 75 m respectively. A flight line spacing of 0.3km was chosen for the main survey area. On the 3rd September a low altitude, high spatial resolution (flight line spacing 100m and altitude 30m) was made over Banks Marsh (an area frequented by local wild fowlers).

Survey results have been stored archivally and used to map the naturally occurring radionuclides 40K, 214Bi and 208Tl together with 137Cs and total gamma ray flux. In addition, for the first time, estimates of 234mPa in terms of deconvoluted count rate (normalised to 100m altitude) were made in the presence of 228Ac interference probably in disequilibrium with its parent thorium series.

The maps provide a clear indication of the distribution and sources of environmental radioactivity in the Ribble at the time of the survey. The Ribble estuary is subject to regular and ongoing ground based studies by BNF, MAFF, HMIP, and University based groups, as a result of the authorised discharges of low level radioactivity from the Springfields site. The results of this survey complement this ground based work, and add to confidence that the estuarine system, it's associated sediments, tide washed pastures, salt marshes and river banks, have been thoroughly examined. There is support for earlier conclusions that the Cs on the salt marshes is the dominant source of external gamma exposure, and that the Springfields contribution to these locations is minor in comparison with this, Sellafield derived, signal. Upstream the situation is more complex, particularly where the dynamic sources of beta radiation are considered. As far as critical group assessments are concerned the survey provides clear evidence that the areas affected by 137Cs, where external gamma dose and possible food chain effects are of greatest interest, are in the lower reaches of the Ribble, whereas, at the time of the survey the 234mPa distribution was in the upper reaches of the river. This not only confirms the findings of ground based work, but provides some assurance that the different exposure paths (external gamma dose, skin dose) are not entirely synergistic. The discovery of possible transient sources of natural 228Ac in the salt marsh environment as a consequence of Th series disequilibrium immediately following spring tides is extremely interesting. If substantiated by further studies using semiconductor detectors this provides a new insight into the dynamic radiation environment of tide washed contexts.

Aerial survey can potentially provide a rapid and cost effective means of studying environmentally dynamic sources such as 234mPa. In the case of the Ribble it would be necessary to reduce survey height to below 50m ground clearance to improve spatial resolution. Possible inconvenience to residents and property owners of such low altitude flights would have to be considered in addition to the potential value of environmental knowledge of the behaviour of short lived nuclides in a dynamic system such the Ribble estuary. There is nonetheless considerable potential for time series studies of this location. Recent flight trials by SURRC incorporating high efficiency germanium semiconductor detectors have verified the feasibility and potential a hybrid scintillation⁄ semiconductor spectrometer. Such a device can resolve any ambiguities arising from overlapping gamma ray peaks. This is particularly relevant to the confirmation of 228Ac in salt marshes. Ground based sampling at the time of measurement would enable concentration calibrations to be made for these dynamic sources. Further ground based measurements would be desirable to establish the extent to which low energy photons contribute to external gamma ray dose rates from sources with pronounced subsurface activity maxima.

Item Type:Research Reports or Papers (Technical Report)
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Murphy, Mr Simon and Sanderson, Professor David
Authors: Sanderson, D.C.W., Allyson, J.D., Tyler, A.N., and Murphy, S.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Publisher:Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 1992 The Authors
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with the permission of the authors
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