Helping the NRC look below the surface

Apr 23, 2010

Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are helping U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) experts model the movement of radioactive materials in the soil. Their findings can be used to fine-tune the risk assessment studies that are an essential component in the development of commercial nuclear facilities.

Soil scientists Yakov Pachepsky, Timothy Gish and Andrey Guber all work in the ARS Animal and Natural Resources Institute in Beltsville, Md. The team set up their study at the Optimizing Production Inputs for Economic and Environmental Enhancement (OPE3) study area in Beltsville, which was established in 1998 to study major environmental and economic issues facing U.S. agriculture. It is equipped with remote sensing gear and other instrumentation for monitoring weather, soil, plants and groundwater.

The researchers studied how contaminants move through the vadose zone, which is the area between the and the groundwater zone. Over a 2-year period, the team added several nontoxic chemical tracers to and used 12 site wells to monitor levels of those tracers at three different depths in the soil. Surface runoff, soil moisture profiles, soil water potential, groundwater levels and weather variables were also monitored.

The researchers compared the field data they collected on water flow and tracer concentrations with results from . Then they ran a range of chemical transport models that varied in complexity to learn more about conditions that could significantly affect the movement of water--and contaminants--below the surface.

Among other findings, the team concluded that tracer transport in soils and shallow groundwater could be strongly affected by gaps in the vadose zone's restrictive fine-material layers.

This and other findings from this work can be used to estimate pollutant transport scenarios for risk assessment studies of nuclear facilities. The results were published in a report by the NRC in 2009.

Explore further: Managing land into the future

Provided by United States Department of Agriculture

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Where does stored nuclear waste go?

Nov 27, 2007

Millions of gallons of hazardous waste resulting from the nation’s nuclear weapons program lie in a remote location in southeastern Washington state called Hanford. Beneath this desert landscape about two ...

Climate change goes underground

Aug 22, 2007

Climate change, a recent “hot topic” when studying the atmosphere, oceans, and Earth’s surface; however, the study of another important factor to this global phenomenon is still very much “underground.” ...

Where is your soil water? Crop yield has the answer

Jul 01, 2008

Crop yield is highly dependent on soil plant-available water, the portion of soil water that can be taken up by plant roots. Quantitative determination of the maximum amount of plant-available water in soil using traditional ...

Recommended for you

Managing land into the future

2 hours ago

Food production is the backbone of New Zealand's economy—and a computer modelling programme designed by a Victoria University of Wellington academic is helping ensure that farming practices here and overseas ...

Is TV coverage of climate change too focused on disaster?

2 hours ago

TV news bulletins also gave much less air time to other potential focuses – the uncertainty surrounding climate change, the opportunities it presents and the explicit risks it presents, says the study published ...

User comments : 0