Assessment of radioactive ‘Hot Particles’ and marine sediment plutonium and americium levels from the Montebello Islands, Western Australia

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South Pacific Environmental Radioactivity Association
The Montebello islands are an archipelago off the Western Australian coast that to this day display an artificial radioactive legacy. The legacy is the result of nuclear testing from 1952-1956. that produced long-lived radionuclides such as americium (Am-241) and plutonium (Pu-239/240). This study investigated the extent and characteristics of radioactive contamination in marine sediments near the former Operation Hurricane and Operation Mosaic G2 detonation sites in hopes of contributing to future management strategies and updated assessment of health risks to native flora, fauna and human populations. The project was conducted with samples collected in 2015 by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) as two series; Series 1 chosen to monitor the activity from the Operation Mosaic G2 detonation and Series 2 aiming to determine residual activity from the Operation Hurricane HMS Plymouth detonation. Samples were initially sieved to separate the bulk samples into four size-based fractions for analysis of activity fractionation among sediment grain sizes. Radiation counting processes included alpha spectrometry and gamma spectrometry, back-scatter electron mode scanning electron microscopy (BEI-SEM) and photo-stimulated luminescent (PSL) autoradiography to evaluate the overall radiative status of the sediment locations and to investigate the presence of ‘hot’ particles or heterogenous dispersion of radioactivity. Both spectrometry processes revealed that Series 1 Am-241 and Pu-239/240 activity was dispersed preferentially in the two larger fractions (>500 um and 500-200 um). Activity determined as Am241 and Pu-289/240 vi/as observed across Series 2 as well but as values an order of magnitude lower. Environmental plutonium from Series 1 was present in hot particle form, specifically within particles from the more active >500 um [largest] fraction which revealed gamma emissions of the plutonium progeny Am241. imaging and subsequent analysis by BE!-SEM and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) of the particles revealed that the majority of the particle material was calcium carbonate, indicative of the dominant geology at the detonation site. Study results provide insights into the radioactive characteristics of hot-particles and bulk sediments at the Montebello site. it is believed and hoped that this investigation will aid decisions on the future management of the Montebello wildlife resources and marine park management, and provide insights into potential risks and protective measures for site visitors and researchers.
Western Australia, Plutonium, Americium, Islands, Nuclear test sites, Health hazards, Contamination, Pollution, ANSTO
Hoffmann, M., Johansen, M., Cook, M., Howell, N., Kleinschmidt, R., & Clegg, J. (2018). Assessment of radioactive ‘Hot Particles’ and marine sediment plutonium and americium levels from the Montebello Islands, Western Australia. Paper presented to the SPERA Conference 2018, "Bringing environmental radioactivity research to Western Australia", Perth, Western Australia, 6 - 9 November 2018. (pp. 29).