Dounreay was involved in ground-breaking research which could lead to savings in decommissioning of nuclear sites. The research was carried out by a team from Lancaster University – led by Professor Malcolm Joyce – and involved recording previously unmeasurable minute traces of plutonium in the soil to determine if it came from local or global sources. Soil samples from Dounreay, as well as an area near to the site and two areas at a distance from it, were used as part of the work undertaken by the team which also included Dr Jeremy Andrew from Dounreay and others from ETH Zurich, a public research university in Switzerland. Using accelerator mass spectrometry – one of the most sensitive ways to measure plutonium – the researchers showed it is possible to identify whether or not traces of the radioactive element come from plutonium ‘bred’ in a reactor or from global fallout. By identifying the isotopic ‘fingerprint’ of trace-level quantities of plutonium in the soil which matched the isotopic fingerprint of the plutonium created by a nuclear reactor, the research team was able to estimate levels of plutonium in the soil which were attributable to reactor pollution and distinguish them from plutonium from global sources.
John O’Groat Journal 26th June 2021 read more »