UK-Ukraine team to boost Chornobyl radiation monitoring

Scientists from Bristol University are working with Ukrainian colleagues to bolster radiation monitoring capabilities around the Chornobyl nuclear site.

Abandoned vehicle inside the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone
Abandoned vehicle inside the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone - Dr Yannick Verbelen

The NATO-backed project will see monitoring equipment deployed across the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (ChEZ) as well as inside the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP) itself. According to the project partners, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has accentuated some of the potential dangers associated with Chornobyl, with an increased threat of extremist and state-sponsored groups gaining access to material for a ‘dirty bomb’.

One key aspect of the programme will see the installation of systems capable of ‘rapidly and non-intrusively' screening both people and vehicles for nuclear and radioactive material, alongside systems for dealing with the contamination that may result from a critical incident. As well as helping to deter and detect bad actors in and around the Chornobyl site, the monitoring equipment could also help play a role in the continued decommissioning of the plant and clean-up of the surrounding area.

“This is an incredibly timely project, with the award of funding from NATO to sponsor this joint UK-Ukraine research enabling scientists and engineers from both countries to collaborate across a number of key nuclear and radiation detection challenges,” said Bristol University’s Dr Peter Martin, an expert in nuclear energy, radiation physics, and reactor accidents, and the leader of the project.

“We have worked with colleagues from across Ukraine for a number of years and are excited to work with them through this award to restore and advance their native capabilities."

The multi-year project will bring together expertise from the University of Bristol’s School of Physics, its Interface Analysis Centre research group, and the South West Nuclear Hub (SWNH), alongside partners from industry, as well as collaborators from the Institute for Safety Problems at Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NASU).

Members of the Bristol team have undertaken several visits to the Chornobyl Sarcophagus and Chornobyl Exclusion Zone as part of their research. Prior to the war in Ukraine and Russian occupation of both the ChEZ and ChNPP, a delegation from a number of Ukrainian nuclear organisations and the British Ambassador to Ukraine visited Bristol in January 2022, culminating in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the parties.

“In addition to the development of new technologies, which will provide the expected high contribution to improving radiation and nuclear safety at nuclear power facilities, the launch of this project at such a difficult time for Ukraine shows an example of real and effective support for Ukrainian science,” said Ukraine’s Dr Viktor Krasnov, deputy project lead.

“The implementation of this project in the most difficult conditions of the post-accident Chornobyl is a guarantee of solving similar problems in any corner of the world.”