Articles | Volume 14, issue 9
Research article
13 May 2014
Research article |  | 13 May 2014

Global risk from the atmospheric dispersion of radionuclides by nuclear power plant accidents in the coming decades

T. Christoudias, Y. Proestos, and J. Lelieveld

Abstract. We estimate the global risk from the release and atmospheric dispersion of radionuclides from nuclear power plant accidents using the EMAC atmospheric chemistry–general circulation model. We included all nuclear reactors that are currently operational, under construction and planned or proposed. We implemented constant continuous emissions from each location in the model and simulated atmospheric transport and removal via dry and wet deposition processes over 20 years (2010–2030), driven by boundary conditions based on the IPCC A2 future emissions scenario. We present global overall and seasonal risk maps for potential surface layer concentrations and ground deposition of radionuclides, and estimate potential doses to humans from inhalation and ground-deposition exposures to radionuclides. We find that the risk of harmful doses due to inhalation is typically highest in the Northern Hemisphere during boreal winter, due to relatively shallow boundary layer development and limited mixing. Based on the continued operation of the current nuclear power plants, we calculate that the risk of radioactive contamination to the citizens of the USA will remain to be highest worldwide, followed by India and France. By including stations under construction and those that are planned and proposed, our results suggest that the risk will become highest in China, followed by India and the USA.

Final-revised paper