IAEA upgrades database on discharges of radionuclides from nuclear installations

15 August 2023

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) database on Discharges of Radionuclides to the Atmosphere & the Aquatic Environment (DIRATA) has been enhanced this year with additional data, such as radionuclide-specific annual discharges, and new user-friendly features.

During normal operation, nuclear facilities such as NPPs and research reactors discharge low level radioactive effluents to the environment. Regulations are in place to ensure do not exceed dose limits to protect the public and the environment. To strengthen information exchange and track trends, the IAEA has recently launched an improved version of DIRATA.

Data include worldwide information on the discharge of radionuclides from nuclear power reactors and reprocessing facilities, submitted voluntarily by countries. The database, originally launched in 1999, was this year enhanced with additional data, such as radionuclide-specific annual discharges, and new features, including an interactive global map of radionuclide discharges. DIRATA also includes data filters by year, country and facility site.

“International standards and controls on radionuclide discharges to the environment are very important so that the environment is protected against the effects of industrial pollutants, including radioactive ones,” said Joanne Brown, Head of the IAEA Assessment & Management of Environmental Releases Unit. “The DIRATA upgrade supports openness and transparency in the reporting of discharge data from nuclear facilities globally and making these data widely available.”

Public records on radioactive discharges support information sharing and allow scientific institutions to estimate the local, regional and global radiological impact of discharges on the public and the environment. “Operators, who are required to report discharge information periodically to regulatory bodies, can use these data to follow long term trends, while regulators can use it to support their assessments to verify that discharges comply with authorized limits and that the public is protected,” Brown added.

Between June 2022 and April 2023, 17 countries were involved in a trial data collection cycle to assist IAEA in developing and testing the proposed features. Based on their feedback, IAEA simplified the data entry process, and increased the versatility of data visualisation and data extraction. These improvements aim to encourage users to enter data regularly, and to make sure that viewing and extracting the data for reporting purposes are suitable for different users’ needs.

The database also contains historical discharge records collected by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and other national organisations. Future entries for European Union (EU) countries will be made in cooperation with the European Commission (EC) through its Radioactive Discharges Database (RADD).

Michael Hübel, Head of the European Commission Radiation Protection & Nuclear Safety Unit, said EU member States “will no longer need to provide reports to DIRATA as the database will be populated by EC RADD public data. This cooperation will avoid duplication of work and ensure consistency in reported data.”

The IAEA is considered the lead organisation in developing a mechanism designed to translate the goal of partnerships and cooperation into action for the United Nation’s Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities in relation to radioactive substances. DIRATA was identified by the 45th IAEA General Conference as an important source of data to support the IAEA’s measures to strengthen international cooperation in nuclear, radiation, transport and waste safety.

DIRATA assists countries in maintaining and publishing records of discharges. These are used for verification of compliance of authorised practices for the control of public and environmental exposure, a requirement set out in IAEA safety standards, and can help them in their reporting within the framework of the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management & on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management.

Image: The IAEA's database DIRATA database has been enhanced with additional data, such as radionuclide-specific annual discharges, and new user friendly features (courtesy of J Burge/IAEA)

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