The International Union of Radioecology’s’ Task Group: Arctic and Antarctic Regions was for a number of years an active forum for those involved in polar radioecology although, primarily due to the heavy workloads of those involved as opposed to lack of interest, relatively dormant for the past two years. This Task Group is now being “relaunched” or reactivated with the intention of restoring the Task Group to an active state.
The original Task Group focussed upon contributing to the understanding of the processes governing the behaviour of radionuclides in Arctic and Antarctic areas and ecosystems and it is not intended to change this remit as this remains an important scientific objective. What has changed however is the level of focus on the polar environments both politically and socio-economically. The primary driver of this shift in focus has been the question of global climate change which presents two aspects of concern: the vulnerable state of the polar environments to climate change and the opening up of the Arctic region for the exploitation of the vast natural resources the region contains.
Both these facets are of relevance to and present new challenges for polar radioecology. These include but are not limited to:
• recent developments such as the initiation by Russia of development and building of floating nuclear power plants for use in both Arctic regions and for transport to other regions via the Arctic,
• the situation regarding NORM/TENORM and the opening of the Barents Region to extractive industries known to be producers of these materials,
• the situation regarding the possible opening of the north western sea routes and the potential transport of nuclear materials from the East to the reprocessing plants of Russia and Western Europe,
• the recent predictions of the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) radioactivity group with respect to the situation regarding the potential for a doubling or tripling of the natural background dose to Arctic residents as a result of climate change,
• the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report outlining the risk posed to the environment as a result of release of contaminants from Arctic permafrost,
• changes in the overall polar environment and environmental processes of radioecological significance as a result of a shifting climate regime,
• added emphasis on radioactive contaminants in a multi-stressor environment.
In addition to these “new challenges” the Polar Regions continue to face the same radioecological problems as before, for which significant knowledge gaps still remain in some cases, knowledge gaps that are exacerbated to some degree by the shift of recent years towards protection of biota alongside protection of man from ionising radiation.
That the situation regarding radioactivity in the Arctic has not slipped from the publics’ or authorities’ attention is well evidenced by the speech made by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway, 21-26 January 2007. Elaborating on the following point with respect to radioactivity's role as a continuing Arctic contaminant (quote):
“European nuclear reprocessing plants are the second largest source of historical radioactive contamination in the Arctic. There are also numerous military and civilian nuclear installations and equipment in the Arctic that pose a risk of large scale air-borne contamination.”
Prof. McGlade went on to emphasise that in light of the predicted increase in nuclear power as an energy source, long range transport of radioactive contamination remains a significant concern for the Arctic region and will continue to do so. The speech by Prof. McGlade is a clear indication that radioactivity and the Arctic remains an issue on a European level.
A functioning IUR Task Group for the Arctic and Antarctic Regions should allow for potential contact to be made with countries not conventionally considered Arctic nations. It is worth noting that countries such as Japan and China have established Arctic presences via their research stations at Ny Ålesund, Spitsbergen and it may be that an IUR Task Group could provide an effective way to establish collaboration with such countries. As late as 2003, countries such as Finland, Denmark and Sweden, with fairly active Arctic radioecological research groups, were not well represented within the IUR Task Group, a matter it is hoped to address. Radioecology was quite poorly represented in the International Polar Year, a framework within which a well thought out radioecological project with a broad consortium would have stood a reasonable chance for funding. That polar radioecology has not been inactive in itself is evidenced by a simple search of the literature which indicates that there has been significant production in at least some aspects of polar radioecology over the past few years (see figure).
Bearing in mind these challenges, it is hoped to relaunch the IUR’s Arctic and Antarctic Regions Task Group with the following general objectives:
• Contribute towards improved knowledge as to the occurrence, behaviour and fate of radioactive contaminants in the polar regions.
• The development of initiatives towards addressing polar radioecology within the context of broader environmental challenges such as climate/environmental change.
• Serve as a contact point between research groups active in polar radioecology
• Function to establish beneficial links between radioecology and other disciplines of relevance to the subject of polar radioecology.
• To increase awareness of polar radioecology in general.
Through the first half of 2008 it is hoped to re-establish contact with existing and potential new members of the Task Group and to begin assessing how the Task Group can reassert itself as a viable and, hopefully, active Task Group within the International Union of Radioecology. Should individual scientists or organisations feel they could contribute to this working group and are not contacted, they are strongly encouraged to contact the Task Group leader at the above email address:
Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority Polar Environmental Centre