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06 mars 2018
Tritium and radiocarbon levels in the Rhône river delta and along the French Mediterranean coastline

Fig 1 : Tritium (TU) in white font and 14C (pmC) in red font in Mediterranean surface water in March 2011

The Rhône is characterised by a heavy concentration of nuclear-based industries including nuclear power stations and nuclear sites housing civilian and military facilities. Here, we report the results of a four-year survey (2010-2013) of tritium and radiocarbon levels in a variety of matrices within the Rhône delta and along the French Mediterranean coastline. The aim of the study is to create a spatial reference framework of environmental levels of these two radionuclides, which are the most prevalent in liquid radioactive effluents from nuclear power stations. Although both tritium and radiocarbon levels in the samples analysed are very low and can only be detected using ultra-sensitive analytical techniques, they clearly show the influence of the tritium and radiocarbon discharges carried by the Rhône plume along the Mediterranean coast. The tritium content of suspended matter and sediments of the Rhône is a special case, which shows elevated tritium values not seen in other French rivers with similar nuclear facilities.


Fig 2 : Reconstruction of the Rhône’s water tritium content downstream of the nuclear facilities using upstream Rhône background data (black line) with direct liquid tritium discharge data (blue line) and additional indirect inputs due to gaseous discharges (red curve).

The north-south spatial distribution of this tritium anomaly shows that these trace values are at their highest in the upper Rhône, close to the Swiss border and upstream of Creys Malville, the northernmost nuclear power station on the Rhône. This points to a legacy of past tritium releases by the watchmaking industry. A dedicated study would be needed to clearly identify the source and the exact nature of this contamination.


Authors : P. Jean-Baptiste, M. Fontugne, E. Fourré, L.  Marang, C. Antonelli, S. Charmasson, F. Siclet

Ref.:Journal of Environmental Radioactivity (2018)


Maj : 09/03/2018 (164)

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