Another Chernobyl? Funding for radiation monitoring technology development

A UK-Ukraine team will implement a low-cost environmental and aerosol monitoring provision inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for fire monitoring and risk management.

Funding has been awarded by the Cabot Institute Innovation Fund 2021, aimed at supporting bold, ambitious and impactful ideas that transcend disciplinary boundaries.

It will see Dr Peter Martin from the University of Bristol collaborate with the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukrainian Central Enterprise for Management of Radioactive Waste, State Specialized Enterprise EcoCentre, and the Joint Support Office in Ukraine, as well as the Met Office and Amazon Web Services. 

The challenge and solution 

The accident at Reactor 4 of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) is to this day the most significant radiological release event to have ever occurred, and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) is still regarded as one of the most radiologically contaminated and hazardous locations on Earth. Unlike Fukushima, where considerable time and financial investment has been directed to the remediation and management of the contaminated environment, no such decontamination has occurred in the CEZ.  As a result, large land areas have been left unmanaged and consequently become a significant fire hazard from the fuel accumulations.

The extreme hazard that had been left ‘unchecked’, when in April 2020 extensive forest fires (believed on this occasion to be the result of arson) ravaged the ‘Red Forest’ region. This extensive burn remobilised a large inventory of the contamination contained within the various surface organic reservoirs - comprising aerosols, volatile species and particulates.

This event highlighted the absence of a comprehensive aerosol, particulate and air quality monitoring provision within the CEZ when Bristol scientists were called upon by the UK Government SAGE and Zone authorities.

To better inform the future real-time fire response, and more importantly the airborne/plume modelling scenarios by governments as part of their national radiological protection measures, there is a critical need for a step-change in the existing monitoring provision.

In response to this capability ‘vacuum’ and enabled by advances in miniaturised integrated sensor components, Bristol researchers have developed advanced, low-cost, rugged, and self-powered networked sensor systems to provide real-time information on the air quality and other meteorological conditions across large spatial extents.

The project will deploy the proven hardware alongside a cloud-based portal through which users can access, explore and interrogate results. Not only will this provide a powerful tool to those managing and monitoring the zone, but also to:

  • scientists examining the global environmental hazard presented by the highly mobile contamination
  • those responsible for managing the radiological safety of those living in, working inside and visiting the zone
  • serve as an educational tool on environmental radioactivity.

University of Bristol Chernobyl research 

This project builds on the Memorandum of Understanding between University of Bristol and the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants National Academy of Science of Ukraine (ISP NPP NASU). 

This follows several visits by University of Bristol researchers to the CEZ in Ukraine, where unmanned aerial and ground robots were deployed to develop advanced radiation mapping techniques. 


Cabot Institute for the Environment

The Cabot Institute Innovation Fund is an annual open call, with between £25-£30k of funding derived from generous gifts and donations to the Cabot Institute. Projects supported must demonstrate an interdisciplinary approach and reflect Cabot’s research focus on protecting our environment and identifying ways of living better with our changing planet.

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