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INL Site

Precipitation and Water Sampling

Precipitation Sampling

Precipitation samples are gathered when sufficient precipitation occurs to allow for the collection of the minimum sample volume of approximately 50 mL. Samples are taken of monthly composites from Idaho Falls, and weekly (when available) from the EFS on the INL Site, and Howe and Atomic City, on the INL Site boundary.. Precipitation samples are analyzed for tritium. Storm events in the fourth quarter of 2017 produced sufficient precipitation to yield 20 samples.

Tritium was measured above the 3s values in eight of the 20 samples. These results are listed in Table C-5 (Appendix C). Low levels of tritium exist in the environment at all times as a result of cosmic ray reactions with water molecules in the upper atmosphere. Long-term data collected around the globe since 1961 by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggest that that tritium levels have steadily decreased since the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and are close to their pre-nuclear test values (Cauquoin et al. 2015) and that there are no longer remnants of fallout from nuclear weapons testing. When detected, tritium values have remained well within the historical range and the range measured across the country by the EPA Radnet program (EPA 2015). Most samples have values up to about 150 pCi/L, with occasional values ranging up to about 300-400 pCi/L. The maximum value in the fourth quarter was 207 pCi/L in a December Atomic City sample.

Water Sampling

Drinking water samples were collected at eight locations (Figure 11). A control sample of bottled water was also prepared. Surface water samples were collected at three Thousand Springs locations, plus a duplicate. All samples were analyzed for gross alpha, gross beta, and tritium. Results are listed in Table C-6 of Appendix C.

Figure 11

Gross alpha activity was not detected in any of the surface water samples. Gross alpha activity was detected three drinking water samples: Craters of the Moon, Howe, and the Highway 20/26 Rest Area. The results were well within historical measurements from the past ten years (2007-2016).

Gross beta activity was detected in five of the eight drinking water samples and in all four of the surface water samples. It was not detected in the control sample. All concentrations were generally similar to previous results from drinking and surface water sampling measured during the past ten years (2007-2016). Natural levels of radioactive decay products of thorium and uranium exist in the Snake River Plain Aquifer and are the likely source of the measured concentrations. The highest reported gross beta value was 6.74 pCi/L in the surface water sample from Alpheus Spring near Twin Falls. This location has historically shown the highest levels of natural activity.

Tritium was also detected in seven of the drinking water samples (including the control sample) and in all four surface water samples. The concentrations were similar to those found in atmospheric moisture and precipitation samples and were consistent with previous results. The maximum value was 138 pCi/L at Craters of the Moon. The results are well below the DCS of 1.9 x 106 pCi/L for tritium in drinking water.

The Big Lost River (BLR) flowed on the INL Site during the early part of the fourth quarter. Samples were collected in October at five locations (plus a duplicate) on the INL Site. A control sample was also collected from Birch Creek. All samples were analyzed for gross alpha, gross beta, tritium, and gamma-emitting radionuclides. Results are listed in Table C-7 of Appendix C.

Gross alpha activity was detected in four of seven samples. Three of the samples had detectable concentrations of gross beta activity. The highest reported gross alpha value was 2.51 pCi/L in a sample collected from the control location (Birch Creek). The highest reported gross beta value was 2.07 pCi/L in a sample from BLR at INTEC. Concentrations were generally lower than the unfiltered results from the second quarter BLR sampling. The water then was heavily sedimented. Tritium was also detected in five samples from the BLR at the Highway 20/26 Rest Area, INTEC (duplicate), NRF, and BLR Sinks and from the control location (Birch Creek). The highest reported value was 163 pCi/L. Concentrations were similar to those found in atmospheric moisture and precipitation samples and were consistent with previous years.

No manmade gamma-emitting radionuclides were detected during the fourth quarter.

Death Camas

Radiation in Our World

Radiation has always been a part of the natural environment in the form of cosmic radiation, cosmogenic radionuclides [carbon-14 (14C), Beryllium-7 (7Be), and tritium (3H)], and naturally occurring radionuclides, such as potassium-40 (40K), and the thorium, uranium, and actinium series radionuclides which have very long half lives. Additionally, human-made radionuclides were distributed throughout the world beginning in the early 1940s. Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons from 1945 through 1980 and nuclear power plant accidents, such as the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union during 1986, have resulted in fallout of detectable radionuclides around the world. This natural and manmade global fallout radioactivity is referred to as background radiation. MORE

Radiation Exposure and Dose

The primary concern regarding radioactivity is the amount of energy deposited by particles or gamma radiation to the surrounding environment. It is possible that the energy from radiation may damage living tissue. When radiation interacts with the atoms of a given substance, it can alter the number of electrons associated with those atoms (usually removing orbital electrons). This is called ionization. MORE