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INL Site

ESER Program Description

ESER LogoOperations at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site are conducted under requirements imposed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under authority of the Atomic Energy Act and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under a number of acts (e.g. the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act). The requirements imposed by DOE are specified in DOE Orders. These requirements include those to monitor the effects of DOE activities both inside and outside the boundaries of DOE facilities (DOE 2011a, DOE 2015a). During calendar year 2017, environmental monitoring within the INL Site boundaries was primarily the responsibility of the INL and Idaho Cleanup Project (ICP) contractors, while monitoring outside the INL Site boundaries was conducted under the Environmental Surveillance, Education, and Research (ESER) Program. At the beginning of the second quarter of 2016, the ESER Program responsibilities were assumed by Wastren Advantage, Inc. (WAI), in conjunction with team members Idaho State University and Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).

This report contains monitoring results from the ESER Program for samples collected during the first quarter of 2017 (January 1- March 31, 2017).

The surveillance portion of the ESER Program is designed to satisfy the following program objectives:

  • Verify compliance with applicable environmental laws, regulations, and DOE Orders
  • Characterize and define trends in the physical, chemical, and biological condition of environmental media on and around the INL Site
  • Assess the potential radiation dose to members of the public from INL Site effluents
  • Present program results clearly and concisely through the use of reports, presentations, newsletter articles and press releases.

The goal of the surveillance program is to monitor different media at a number of potential exposure points within the various exposure pathways, including air, water, agricultural products, wildlife, and soil that could possibly contribute to the radiation dose received by the public.

Environmental samples collected include:

  • air at 16 locations on and around the INL Site
  • moisture in air at four locations around the INL Site
  • precipitation from three locations on and around the INL Site
  • drinking water from eight locations and surface water from three locations around the INL Site
  • agricultural products, including milk at seven dairies around the INL Site, potatoes from at least six local producers, alfalfa from a local producer, grain (wheat and barley) from approximately 10 local producers, and lettuce from approximately nine home-owned and portable gardens on and around the INL
  • soil from 13 locations around the INL Site biennially
  • environmental dosimeters from 17 locations semi-annually
  • various numbers of wildlife including big game (pronghorn, mule deer, and elk) and waterfowl sampled on and near the INL Site. 

Table A-1 in Appendix A lists samples, sampling locations, and collection frequency for the ESER Program.

The ESER Program used two laboratories to perform analyses on routine environmental samples collected during the quarter reported here. The ISU Environmental Assessment Laboratory (EAL) performed routine gross alpha, gross beta, tritium, and gamma spectrometry analyses. Analyses requiring radiochemistry including strontium-90 (90Sr), plutonium-238 (238Pu), plutonium-239/240 (239/240Pu), and americium-241 (241Am) were performed by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).

In the event of non-routine occurrences, such as suspected releases of radioactive material, the ESER Program may increase the frequency of sampling and/or the number of sampling locations based on the nature of the release and wind distribution patterns. Any data found to be outside historical norms in the ESER Program is thoroughly investigated to determine if an INL Site origin is likely. Investigation may include re-sampling and/or re-analysis of prior samples.

In the event of any suspected worldwide nuclear incidents, like the 1986 Chernobyl accident or the 2011 Fukushima accident, the EPA may request additional sampling be performed through RadNet [previously known as the Environmental Radiation Ambient Monitoring System (ERAMS) network] (EPA 2016). The EPA established the ERAMS network in 1973 with an emphasis on identifying trends in the accumulation of long-lived radionuclides in the environment. ERAMS was renamed RadNet in 2005 to reflect a new mission. RadNet is comprised of a nationwide network of sampling stations that provide air, precipitation, drinking water, and milk samples. The ESER Program currently operates a high-volume air sampler and collects precipitation and drinking water in Idaho Falls for this national program and routinely sends samples to EPA’s Eastern Environmental Radiation Facility for analyses. The RadNet data collected at Idaho Falls are not reported by the ESER Program but are available through the EPA RadNet website (http://www.epa.gov/radnet/).

Once samples have been collected and analyzed, the ESER Program has the responsibility for quality control of the data and for preparing quarterly reports on results from the environmental surveillance program. The quarterly reports are then consolidated into the INL Site Environmental Report for each calendar year. These annual reports also include data collected by other INL Site contractors.

The results reported in the quarterly and annual reports are assessed in terms of data quality and statistical significance with respect to laboratory analytical uncertainties, sample locations, reported INL Site releases, meteorological data, and worldwide events that might conceivably have an effect on the INL Site environment. First, field collection and laboratory information are reviewed to determine identifiable errors that would invalidate or limit use of the data. Examples of such limitations include insufficient sample volume, torn filters, evidence of laboratory cross-contamination or quality control issues. Data that pass initial screening are further evaluated using statistical methods. Statistical tools are necessary for data evaluation particularly since environmental measurements typically involve the determination of minute concentrations, which are difficult to detect and even more difficult to distinguish from other measurements.

Results are presented in this report with an analytical uncertainty term, s, where “s” is the estimated sample standard deviation (σ), assuming a Gaussian or normal distribution. All results are reported in this document, even those that do not necessarily represent detections. The term "detected", as used for the discussion of results in this report, does not imply any degree of risk to the public or environment, but rather indicates that the radionuclide was measured at a concentration sufficient for the analytical instrument to record a value that is statistically different from background. Laboratory measurements involve the analysis of a target sample and the analysis of a prepared laboratory blank (i.e., a sample which is identical to the sample collected in the environment, except that the radionuclide of interest is absent). In order to conclude that a radionuclide has been detected, it is essential to consider two fundamental aspects of the problem of detection:

  1. The instrument signal for the sample must be greater than that observed for the blank before the decision can be made that the radionuclide has been detected; and
  2. An estimate must be made of the minimum radionuclide concentration that will yield a sufficiently large observed signal before the correct decision can be made for detection or non-detection.

ESER currently defines a detection of radioactivity in an individual sample if the result exceeds the minimum detectable concentration (MDC) calculated by the laboratory after the analysis of a background sample (i.e., the a posteriori measurement) based on calculations derived by Curie (1968). The MDC is defined as the concentration at which there is a 95 percent confidence that an analyte signal will be distinguishable from an analyte-free sample.

In addition ESER uses a three standard deviation criterion to identify a potentially false positive result. A false positive result is indicated when the range encompassing the result, plus or minus the total uncertainty at three standard deviations, includes zero (e.g., 2.5 +/- 1.0; range of -0.5 to 3.5). Statistically, the probability that a result can exceed the absolute value of its total uncertainty at three standard deviations by chance alone is less than 1 percent.  A result that is greater than three times the total uncertainty of the measurement represents a statistically positive detection with over 99 percent confidence (DOE 2015b). The ESER reports measured radionuclide concentrations greater than or equal to their respective 3s uncertainties as being detected with confidence.

Concentrations between 2s and 3s are reported as questionably detected. That is, the radionuclide may be present in the sample; however, the probability that a result can exceed the absolute value of its total uncertainty at two standard deviations by chance alone may be as high as 5 percent. Measurements made between 2s and 3s are examined further to determine if they are a part of a pattern (temporal or spatial) that might warrant further investigation or recounting. For example, if a particular radionuclide is routinely detected at > 3s at a specific location, a sample result between 2s and 3s might be considered detected.

If a result is less than or equal to 2s there is even less statistical confidence that the radionuclide is present in the sample. Analytical results in this report are presented as the result value ± one standard deviation (1s) for reporting consistency with the annual report. To obtain the 2s or 3s values simply multiply the uncertainty term by 2 or 3. 

For more information concerning the ESER Program, contact WAI at (208) 525-8250, or visit the Program’s web page (www.idahoeser.com).

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