Focus on radioactivity

ANDRA is responsible for the long-term management of radioactive waste produced in France, and is researching the possibility of constructing a geological storage centre in the region where the OPE is situated. For this, a specific radioactivity research programme has been designed for this area, upstream from the proposed storage site and in order to ensure long-term observation.

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The radioactivity that we measure in the environment comes from several different sources:

  • Natural radioactivity that has been present in the crust since the Earth was formed. This category includes uranium, thorium and their derivatives, such as radon in the atmosphere and potassium-40.
  • Radioactivity emitted by cosmic rays, which mostly produces carbon-14 that penetrates into plants. The principal source of natural radioactivity is a rare gas, radon, that is released in the decay chain of uranium.
  • Artificial radioactivity from Chernobyl fallout, nuclear testing, etc.

In 2009, the IRSN published the "Review of radiation monitoring in the environment in France", which is available on their website.

Monitoring of radiology levels in the French environment

Humans are subject to radioactivity that is naturally present in nature (terrestrial and cosmic radiation) and manmade radioactivity (Chernobyl fallout, nuclear testing, etc.).


Since OPE was created, numerous campaigns for radioactivity measurement have been carried out to distinguish between the natural and manmade radiological background noise in the OPE area, and pinpoint the nature, size and source more precisely. All environmental compartments are analysed in these campaigns: the soil (pedosphere), water (hydrosphere), the atmosphere and the biosphere.

Measurement campaigns in the OPE area

As required by the Local Information and Monitoring Committee (CLIS), radiological monitoring of underground and surface water has been conducted since 2002 by the underground research laboratory of ANDRA's Meuse/Haute-Marne Centre.

In 2008, an initial radiological baseline was carried out in the OPE area by the Subatech laboratory in Nantes. This OPE measurement campaign concentrated on:

  • soil
  • water
  • the food chain (wheat, rapeseed, milk, cheese, eggs, cabbage)
  • bioindicators (beech leaves, terrestrial bryophyte mosses, lichens).

This initial baseline for the OPE area allowed us to measure natural radioactive elements (cosmic rays, terrestrial radiation) and manmade radioactive elements (Chernobyl fallout, nuclear testing) in the environment. The registered values are compatible with the values published by the ISRN in their annual results summaries of observation networks.

Campaign 2011

This radiological baseline was further developed in 2011, with the implementation of new measurement campaigns with low thresholds, in partnership with the Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN). As part of this framework, ANDRA and the IRSN have signed a three-year cooperation agreement (from 2010 to 2013) that includes 6 sections:

  • Literature review of available data on the radiological situation of the north-eastern quadrant of France
  • Study of soils
  • Study of rainwater and aerosols
  • Study of sediment and suspended solids
  • Study of biological matrices
  • Study of decaying plant matter (geological matter that has been excavated from underground).

The sampling strategy was defined by the ISRN and ANDRA technical teams in 2010. Last year was dedicated to taking the samples, and this year to analysing them. The analysis reports and interpretation of the results will be compiled in 2013.

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