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Environmental radioactivity

Radioactive substances occur everywhere in nature. Some of them have been present since the formation of the earth, some are constantly being created through interactions, and others are artificially generated. In Germany, environmental radioactivity is constantly monitored by the competent authorities.

Radiation exposure, i.e. exposure to radiation caused by radioactive substances, can occur in humans through various natural sources and sources of civilization. For example, the noble gas radon is often the major source of natural radiation exposure and is formed in the soil under certain geological conditions. Natural radioactive substances in building materials and industrial products as well as radioactive residues of special industries (e.g. geothermal energy, drinking water treatment) where natural radioactive substances may occur - so-called NORM (naturally occurring radioactive material) industries - may also contribute to radiation exposure of the population.

In nuclear power plants as well as in medicine, research and industry, waste is produced for which a decision must be made as to whether it has to be disposed of as radioactive waste or whether it can be recycled or disposed of like normal, conventional waste due to its low radioactivity. This decision is referred to as "release from nuclear and radiation protection supervision" or "release" for short.

Our tasks

  • The task of GRS is to make well-founded scientific statements on the above-mentioned complexes of topics with regard to the radiation exposure of humans and to contribute to the development and application of rules and regulations and of recommendations. Our competences include the performance of expert, quality-assured measurements of radon and its derived products as well as of ambient radiation. 
  • Simulation of the dispersion of radon with special calculation codes (e.g. COCOSYS). 
  • Estimation of radiation exposure from the radioactive noble gas radon and its daughter products indoors, from ingestion of natural radioactive substances into the body, or from gamma radiation exposure.
  • Studies on physical, chemical or biological processes leading to the accumulation of natural radionuclides in intermediate and final products as well as on residues of NORM, technically enhanced NORM (TENORM).
  • Radiological assessment of a landfill, contaminated site, or recycling of NORM residues and the transport of NORM and TENORM to determine exposure in workplaces or its impact on the population. 
  • Assessment of whether release of a substance will not exceed a radiation dose of 10 µSv per year to members of the public, using radiological models and exposure scenarios. 
  • Evaluation and visualisation of data through the use of geographic information systems (GIS). 

We also use our experience and methods in international projects:

  • Chernobyl database: For the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, GRS has been developing the "Shelter Safety Status Database (SSSDB)" together with Ukrainian scientists since 2006. This database systematically summarises data on the radiological situation on site. Specialist institutions from Germany and abroad as well as the operator of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant use the database.
  • Support in the recovery and safe temporary storage of unsafe radioactive sources in Ukraine (2013-2019, approx. 16,000 radioactive sources) and, since 2020, in the Republic of Armenia.