Transfer - Exposure - Effects (TREE): Integrating the science needed to underpin radioactivity assessments for humans and wildlife

Project Details


For all sources of radioactivity, radiological risk assessments are essential for safeguarding human and environmental health. But assessments often have to rely upon simplistic assumptions, such as the use of simple ratios in risk calculations which combine many processes. This pragmatic approach has largely arisen due to the lack of scientific knowledge and/or data in key areas. The resultant uncertainty has been taken into account through conservative approaches to radiological risk assessment which may tend to overestimate risk. Uncertainty arises at all stages of the assessment process from the estimation of transfer to human foodstuffs and wildlife, exposure and risk. Reducing uncertainty is important as it relates directly to scientific credibility, which will always be open to challenge given the highly sensitive nature of radiological risk assessment in society. We propose an integrated, multi-disciplinary, programme to assess and reduce the uncertainty associated with radiological risk assessment to protect human health and the environment. At the same time we will contribute to building the capacity needed to ensure that the UK rebuilds and maintains expertise in environmental radioactivity into the future.
Our project has four major and highly inter-related components to address the key goal of RATE to rebuild UK capacity and make a major contribution to enhancing environmental protection and safeguarding human health.
The first component will study how the biological availability of radionuclides varies in soils over time. We will investigate if short-term measurements (collected in three year controlled experiments) can be used to predict the long-term availability of radionuclides in soils by testing our models in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The second component will apply the concepts of 'phylogeny' and 'ionomics' to characterise radionuclide uptake by plants and other organisms. These approaches, and statistical modelling methods, are increasingly applied to describe uptake of a range of elements in plant nutrition, and we are pioneering their use for studying radionuclide uptake in other organisms and human foods. A particularly exciting aspect of the approach is the possibility to make predictions for any plant or animal. This is of great value as it is impossible to measure uptake for all wildlife, crops and farm animals. The third component of the work will extend our efforts to improve the quantification of radiation exposure and understanding of resultant biological effects by investigating the underlying mechanisms involved. A key aim is to see whether what we know from experiments on animals and plants in the laboratory is a good representation of what happens in the real world: some scientists believe that animals in the natural environment are more susceptible to radiation than laboratory animals: we need to test this to have confidence in our risk assessments. Together these studies will enable us to reduce and better quantify the uncertainties associated with radiological risk assessment.
By training a cohort of PDRA and PhDs our fourth component will help to renew UK capacity in environmental radioactivity by providing trained, experienced researchers who are well networked within the UK and internationally through the contacts of the investigators. Our students will be trained in a wide range of essential skills through their controlled laboratory studies and working in contaminated environments. They will benefit from being a member of a multidisciplinary team and opportunities to take placements with our beneficiaries and extensive range of project partners.
The outputs of the project will benefit governmental and non-governmental organisations with responsibility for assessing the risks to humans and wildlife posed by environmental radioactivity. It will also make a major contribution to improved scientific and public confidence in the outcomes of environmental safety assessments.
Effective start/end date1/10/1330/09/18


  • Energy
  • Pollution, waste & resources
  • Terrest. & freshwater environment
  • Assess/Remediate Contamination
  • Energy - Nuclear
  • Soil science
  • Water Quality


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.