Environmental Science

Nuclear Signatures

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Science  12 Apr 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5566, pp. 219-221
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5566.219d

After the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk sank in August 2000 in the Barents Sea, concerns that nuclear waste might then be released into the sea and deep ocean were expressed. Matishov et al. explored the situation in September 2000 by sampling the local seawater, sediments, and biota (including fish) and by comparing these to earlier archival samples. They found negligible radioactivity from the Kursk in all of the recent samples. However, they did find anomalously high levels of iodine-129 (129I) compared to samples from the early 1990s. This input is characteristic of contamination from recent fuel reprocessing efforts in the UK and France (which is controversial primarily because reprocessing can lead to production of some weapons-grade fuel). Although the levels of contamination are well below those associated with health risks, the study indicates the sensitivity of the region to nuclear fuel processing activity across Europe. The 129I signature might also be useful as a long-distance ocean tracer, but locally influenced background levels will have to be considered.—BH

Environ. Sci. Technol. 10.1021/es0112487 (2002).

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