The University of Plymouth has been awarded funding as part of an international initiative examining the environmental impacts of tritium.
TRANSAT (TRANSversal Actions for Tritium) is a £5million project, funded as part of the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme and involving 18 partners from eight countries.
It will explore the potential dangers posed by tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and a by-product of nuclear fusion in the world’s reactors.
The University is one of the few organisations in the UK already researching the effects of tritium on the environment, having previously worked with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas).
Last year, it published a study which demonstrated that rising sea temperatures – coupled with the increased presence of tritium – could dramatically enhance and accelerate radiation-induced DNA effects in marine invertebrates.
Awadhesh Jha, Professor of Genetic Toxicology and Ecotoxicology at the University, said:
“With the increase in the use of nuclear power, we know there will be an increased volume of tritium in the atmosphere. But how it reacts with other elements, and impacts on the environment, are things we have still to ascertain. This project and our existing work seeks to answer some of those questions so we can both predict the impact and determine the best ways to counteract any negative effects.”
For this new four-year multidisciplinary project, also involving Dr Andrew Turner and Dr Vikram Sharma as Co-Investigators, the University is one of three UK-based institutions involved, the others being Public Health England and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).
The project is led by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), which will allow academics from the University to build on their previous work, while collaborating with partners in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.
It will focus around ITER (formerly known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor), a multi-billion pound research and engineering megaproject being built in southern France.
The behaviour of tritium particles will be assessed in dedicated rigs, made of both steel and concrete, and scientists will use those to monitor the amount of tritium released into the atmosphere.
The project will also seek to determine ways to enhance waste management around nuclear facilities in the future, and examine how best to minimise tritium release during future dismantling.
Professor Jha added:
“In fusion technology, the hydrogen isotopes tritium and deuterium combine to create a plasma which is then converted into power. It is likely the ITER facility could be the first of many of its kind as it has the potential to generate huge quantities of energy, so understanding the potential wider impact of these isotopes is therefore crucial.”