Precipitation samples are gathered when sufficient precipitation occurs to allow for the collection of the minimum sample volume of approximately 50 mL (Figure 11). Samples are taken of monthly composites from Idaho Falls, and weekly (when available) from the EFS on the INL Site and Atomic City and Howe on the INL Site boundary. These are the same locations that atmospheric moisture samples are collected at. Precipitation samples are analyzed for tritium. Storm events in the fourth quarter of 2018 produced sufficient precipitation to yield 17 samples.
Tritium was measured above the 3s values in five of the 17 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 2019). 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 175 pCi/L in an EFS sample collected on October 10.
Drinking water samples were collected at eight locations. 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.
Gross alpha activity was detected in four of the nine drinking water samples and in one of the four surface water samples. Gross beta activity was detected in seven of the nine drinking water samples (all except the control and Howe), and in all four of the surface water samples. All concentrations were generally similar to previous results from drinking and surface water sampling. 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 value was 7.74 pCi/L in the sample from Alpheus Spring near Twin Falls. This location has historically shown the highest levels of natural activity.
Tritium was not detected in any of the nine drinking water samples but was found in one of the four surface water samples. The concentration of 82 pCi/L was similar to those found in atmospheric moisture and precipitation samples and were consistent with previous results The result was well below the DCS of 1.9 x 106 pCi/L for tritium in drinking water.
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
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