Analyzing Risk for Radioactive Materials Using GIS

Mark Altaweel


Radioactive materials pose significant health problems, particularly as their presence is common in rural and urban environments.

Earlier studies in GIS were particularly focused on analyzing safe transportation that looked at where the safest routes might be in the transportation of radioactive materials, particularly as materials had to be moved across populated areas.[1] Factors such as population density, road traffic, and weather affect optimal, least-cost route estimates.

Using GIS for Site Analysis for Storing Radioactive Materials

More recent studies have utilized the analytical capabilities in GIS for quantifying risk in the storage of radioactive materials.

Using established federal guidelines for criteria on the types of geological region (e.g., type of rock, distance from populated areas, and depth of safe storage), GIS was used to demonstrate areas that could be more or less suitable for radioactive storage.[2]

Radioactive substances in the earth that could potentially be harmful at high levels also generally occur based on a variety of soil characteristics, including the types of underlying bedrock.

Spatial prediction map for the ordinary kriging interpolation of 232 Th. Map: Dindaroğlu, 2014.
Spatial prediction map for the ordinary kriging interpolation of 232 Th. Map: Dindaroğlu, 2014.

The distribution of radionuclides, as one example, depends on bedrock characteristics. Based on this, Kriging techniques have been used to estimate areas of radioactive concentration, where the bedrock type is used as a determinant of concentration of the radioactive substance. This, in effect, estimates radioactivity in areas that might not be as known for levels of radioactive measurements.[3]

GIS and Disaster Management of Radioactive Materials

Relatively recent major disasters, such as the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, caused by an earthquake and tsunami, have caused renewed interest in disaster management in relation to radioactive materials.

Map of the Radioactive Analysis around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Source: TEPCO, 2016.
Map of the Radioactive Analysis around Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Source: TEPCO, 2016.

Simulation of water transport of nuclear substances has been one application used to estimate where or what regions could be more greatly affected by radioactive water supplies as well to help determine risks to populations.[4]

The use of hydrologic simulation models and water transport finite element modeling have ways in how this research has been conducted.


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[1] For more information on radioactive transportation and GIS, see:  Souleyrette, R. R., & Sathisan, S. K. (1994). GIS for Radioactive Materials Transportation. Computer-Aided Civil and Infrastructure Engineering, 9(4), 294–304.

[2] For more on using GIS for the storage of radioactive materials, see:  Wilson, C. A., Matthews, K., Pulsipher, A., & Wang, W.-H. (2016). Using Geographic Information Systems to Determine Site Suitability for a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Facility: Health Physics, 110, S17–S25.

[3] For more on kriging used to estimate radioactive concentration, see: Dindaroğlu, T. (2014). The use of the GIS Kriging technique to determine the spatial changes of natural radionuclide concentrations in soil and forest cover. Journal of Environmental Health Science and Engineering, 12(1).

[4] For more on the Fukushima water transport modeling, see:  Samuels, W. B., Bahadur, R., & Ziemniak, C. (2014). Waterborne Transport Modeling of Radioactivity from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Incident. In R. M. Clark & S. Hakim (Eds.), Securing Water and Wastewater Systems (pp. 135–148). Cham: Springer International Publishing.


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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

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