On Thursday 8 July 2010 ASN published the Tritium White Paper, a review of current knowledge about tritium
The Tritium White Paper is the fruit of work by two broad-based working groups set up at ASN's initiative to review the behaviour of tritium in the environment and the evaluation of the biological impact of tritium on humans, in the wake of publications by British environmental and health agencies on the subject. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. The overall impact of tritium releases in France is low: the annual effective dose for the reference groups is below or in the order of one µSv.
Radioactive releases in the environment around civilian nuclear facilities have significantly decreased over the last few decades, with the exception of tritium. Discharges of this element are expected to increase due to the changes envisaged in the fleet of nuclear power plants and in the fuel management methods used, and also due to new tritium-emitting facilities, including new power plants that are to be built and the ITER project.
The purpose of these two working groups was:
- to look at questions related to the possible bioaccumulation of tritium in the different biological compartments and the evaluation of the health effects of tritium radiation. This group was chaired by Dr Patrick Smeesters of the Belgian Federal Agency for Nuclear Control;
- to examine the impact of new facilities, the potential for reducing tritium at source, the potential for detritiation and the management of tritiated waste. This group was chaired by Roland Masse of the Académie des technologies.
The groups were formed of scientists (CNRS, GSIEN, Institut Curie, IRSN, universities and European Commission "Article 31" experts), representatives of operators (ANDRA, AREVA, CEA, EDF and ITER), stakeholders (ANCCLI, ACRO and CLI) and the safety authorities (ASN and DSND). Their findings and recommendations were submitted in early April 2010.
The White Paper presents the ASN's action plan. The plan is based on a synthesis of the two groups' work and on their findings and recommendations and the written contributions of the different participants. Lastly, ASN is presenting the action plan based on the discussions it has begun on tritium.
ASN underlines the high standard of work done, which has produced the recommendations made by the working groups.
This work highlights the low impact tritium releases have in France. It also reveals the need to carry out further studies and research in order to reinforce current data and knowledge of the behaviour of tritium in the environment.
The action plan ASN has decided to embark upon consists of four points: measurement methods and protocols for different forms of tritium, control of releases by operators of nuclear facilities, monitoring of the environment, and evaluation of tritium impact. ASN will bring together all those concerned in order to implement this plan. ASN also hopes that the research bodies concerned will take account of the working groups' recommendations.
Tritium is naturally present in the environment, produced mainly by the effect of cosmic radiation on the atmosphere. It is also one of the main radionuclides emitted by nuclear reactors, spent nuclear fuel processing plants, industries and laboratories using the radionuclide and waste management facilities. It exists in the environment in several forms: as a liquid, as a gas, and bound to organic molecules. The radiotoxicity of tritium is low.
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