Due to the aging of nuclear installations, large amount of nuclear waste, legacy U mining sites and new era in nuclear energy, the decline in environmental radioactivity/radioecology research and educational capacity in Europe has been of major concern. Thus, the EC funded COMET (Coordination and iMplementation of a pan-European instrument for radioecology) was funded to strengthen the pan-European research initiative on the impact of radiation on man and the environment by facilitating the integration of radioecology research and development. The project was coordinated by SCK-CEN, Belgium, and included 13 partners. NMBU/CERAD has contributed to all 5 work packages, in particular to the research oriented WPs, focussing on processes and mechanisms of importance for ecosystem transfer, and low dose exposure of non-human organisms, being essential ingredients in risk assessments. These research topics were also highly relevant to the CERAD Centre of Excellence in Environmental Radioactivity established in 2013 at NMBU.
Within WP2 - Integrating and sustaining radioecology, COMET has promoted the European Radioecology Alliance (ALLIANCE) platform, which now includes 27 partners. NMBU is member of the ALLIANCE Board. NMBU has supported further development the Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) as well as of topical roadmaps. NMBU contributes to the roadmaps on Marine Radioecology, NORM, Transfer processes of atmospheric radionuclides and Transgenerational Effects and Interspecies Sensitivity.
Within WP3 - Improved models for risk assessment and for emergency and post-accident situations, the NMBU research has focused on parametrisation of key processes controlling the transfer of radionuclides in the environment. After an open COMET research call, the project RATE (RAdioactive particle Transformation procEsses) on the behaviour of particle-bound radionuclides was initiated where NMBU has played major role. Research at NMBU using advanced techniques has showed that particle characteristics such as composition, atom and element ratios depend on the emitting source, while particle characteristics essential for ecosystem transfer and biological uptake (particle size distribution, crystallographic structures, oxidation states) depend mostly on the release conditions. Based on field work (Chernobyl and Fukushima) and model experiments, a key focus has been to link particle characteristics to specific nuclear and radiological sources and to specific release scenarios, and to link particle characteristics to ecosystem behavior, replacing thermodynamic constants (e.g., Kd, TC) with time functions. COMET/RATE results showed also that radioactive particles can be retained within organisms such as snail shells, acting as point sources. For particle- affected areas, it is therefore essential to include particle ?bound transfer parameters in ecosystem transfer models.
Within WP4 - Epigenetic changes and their possible role in adaptation and trans-generational effects, NMBU has performed controlled laboratory exposure experiments to investigate epigenetic changes in laboratory model organisms (zebrafish, earthworm). In parallel field studies (Chernobyl) were performed to investigate epigenetic changes in wildlife. The results from field and laboratory studies showed limited impact of long-term exposure to radiation on DNA methylation, although comparison of field versus laboratory results indicated that species sampled in the field could be more sensitive to radiation than studied under laboratory-controlled conditions.
Within WP5 - Knowledge exchange, NMBU has further developed the E&T web platform that contains information on course modules within radioecology in Europe, ranging from MSc and PhD courses to workshops and professional development. COMET partners have contributed to the European Masters Program in Radioecology held at NMBU, Norway, and to the implantation of new intensive courses. More than 30 PhD students and a large number of MSc students have been associated with COMET-related research and are incorporated in the Radioecology PhD network (based on the NMBU Research School).
In conclusion, results gained within COMET on ecosystem transfer, biological uptake and effects are important knowledge that will be implemented in the following-up projects CONFIDENCE and TERRITORIES funded by EC Concert.
In the context of Horizon 2020, the European Commission asks for umbrella structures for its RTD activities that includes the major research networks and institutions in Europe within the field of radiation protection; i.e., radioecology, radiological eme rgency preparedness, low dose health effects and dosimetry. The objective of COMET is together with the European Radioecological Alliance (ALLIANCE) to strengthen the pan-European research in radioecology. The initiative is taken in close contact with MEL ODI (low dose health effects), NERIS (radiological emergency preparedness) and EURADOS (dosimetry) to prepare for a single umbrella structure in the field of radiation protection in preparation for the Horizon 2020 programme. COMET will develop innovativ e mechanisms for joint programming and implementation of radioecological research based on the SRA (strategic research agenda) in collaboration with MELODI and NERIS.
COMET will particularly strengthen the pan-European research on the impact of radiation on the environment, including ecosystem transfer, the food chain and the protection of non-human species. The selected research topics are focussing on processes and mechanisms of importance for risk assessments. The work is organized into 5 work package s, and includes initial research activities, education/training as well as joint programming. UMB/CERAD CoE for Environmental Radioactivity contributes significantly to all WPs, in particular to the WP3.1 research focusing on improving parameter values fo r Decision Support Systems for emergency situations, and to the WP4.1 research dealing with epigenetic effects/adaptation/transgenerational effects in organisms experiencing chronic low dose exposure. CERAD CoE (UMB, NRPA plus 4 partners) was established 2013 with the aim to provide new scientific knowledge and tools for better protection of people and environment from harmful effects of radiation. The objectives of COMET fit very well into the SRA of CERAD.