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An Airborne and Vehicular Gamma Survey of Greenham Common, Newbury District and Surrounding Areas

By D.C.W. Sanderson, J.D. Allyson, A. Cresswell, P. McConville and University of Glasgow: Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre


The airborne gamma ray survey recorded more than 40,000 scintillation spectra and 20,000 spectra from semiconductor detectors. The vehicular survey produced a further 1346 and 763 spectral sets respectively. The installation, calibration, recording and analysis followed SURRC procedures which have been developed and validated over many years and are fully documented. Pre flight checks on detector performance for energy calibration, energy resolution and sensitivity were performed on a daily basis. Background readings over water were taken on a daily basis. All data were registered and backed up in duplicate to form a digital archive of the survey. Subsequent analysis and mapping has used a combination of standard procedures established over many years, and new techniques developed to analyse the low energy spectra. All results have been retained to facilitate traceability and further analysis in the future. The sensitivity of the aircraft and vehicle were also checked at Greenham Common by collecting a set of 31 core samples for independent laboratory analysis.\ud \ud The key points arising from the airborne survey of the entire area show that there has been sufficient sensitivity to record variations in the natural background. The levels of 137Cs are consistent with weapons' testing fallout, and are substantially lower than in other parts of the UK and Europe. The average levels of K (0.5%), U (1 ppm) and Th (3 ppm) are lower than national averages and show variations within the area which reflect local geology and landcover. The area as a whole therefore is one of low environmental radiation background compared with national averages. There is no evidence of signals at Greenham Common or in its vicinity which would present a local radiation hazard. However, signals were detected in the vicinity of Harwell and the Rutherford laboratory which would, at the time of the survey, represent radiation projected off-site as a result of materials stored on-site or on-site activities.\ud \ud Examination of the low energy gamma ray spectra recorded from the semiconductor detectors reveals no evidence, within the sensitivity limits of the method, for excess gamma ray signals at the energies associated with 235U around Greenham Common, Newbury and Thatcham. The low energy data are sufficiently sensitive to record variations in the distribution of natural activity in the area. There is tentative evidence for 241Am in the vicinity of AWE Aldermaston.\ud \ud The vehicular survey demonstrated that the grass areas in between the runway and taxi lanes, and around the hardstand associated with the 1958 fire have retained weapons' testing 137Cs. This supports the view that these represent authentic undisturbed areas for sampling. The built surfaces remaining at the time of the survey were of lower natural activity and 137Cs content than their surroundings. High resolution gamma ray spectra at selected sites were also consistent with the known sources of background radioactivity. \ud \ud On the basis of the results, Newbury District and surrounding areas represent an area with low environmental radioactivity compared with national and European averages. There is no evidence to substantiate fears about the quality of the radiation environment in the vicinity of Greenham Common

Publisher: Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Centre
Year: 1997
OAI identifier:
Provided by: Enlighten

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