Temporal change in fallout 137Cs in terrestrial and aquatic systems: a whole ecosystem approach

James T. Smith*, Serguei V. Fesenko, Brenda J. Howard, A. David Horrill, Natalya I. Sanzharova, Roudolf M. Alexakhin, David G. Elder, Christopher Naylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


During the years after a nuclear accident, the bioavailability and environmental mobility of radiocesium declines markedly, resulting in large changes in contamination of foodstuffs, vegetation, and surface waters. Predicting such changes is crucial to the determination of potential doses to affected populations and therefore to the implementation of radiological countermeasures. We have analyzed 77 data sets of radiocesium (137Cs) activity concentrations in milk, vegetation, and surface waters after the Chernobyl accident. Our results show that the rate of decline in 137Cs during the years after Chernobyl is remarkably consistent in all three ecosystem components, having a mean effective half-life, Teff ≈ 2years. By comparing changes in 137Cs availability with rates of diffusion of 40K (a close analogue) into the lattice of an illitic clay (1) we have, for the first time, directly linked changes in the environmental availability of 137Cs to fixation processes at a mechanistic level. These changes are consistent with declines in the exchangeable fraction of 137Cs in soils (2, 3).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-54
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number1
Early online date20 Nov 1998
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999


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