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Environmental Radiation

The Environmental Radiation Branch is responsible for issuance, maintenance and inspection of registrations for all General License devices and non-medical x-ray tubes. Installers and servicers of non-medical x-ray units are also required to register with our office through this branch.

The State of Alabama began environmental monitoring for radioactive materials in the early 1950's. Water surveillance for radioactivity resulted from public concern over fallout from nuclear weapons testing. Today, the office operates the Alabama Radiological Environmental Monitoring Program (AREMP). The program was designed to monitor the containment and control of nuclear plant operations and determine the overall radiological impact of nuclear industries to the environment.

AREMP currently monitors two operational nuclear power plants: Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) and Southern Nuclear's Farley NPP.

Monitoring these sites was a part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) monitoring plan beginning in 1983. That year a contract with the NRC and the State of Alabama began and was modified yearly until 1998. At that time the state began bearing the financial burden of the program. No modifications to the monitoring plan were made and the monitoring of the sites continues today.

Ionizing radiation reaches the body primarily through ingestion, inhalation, and direct exposure to radioactive materials. AREMP monitors all of these pathways. Airborne particulates are sampled for radiological inhalants. Water, vegetation, milk, and other foodstuffs are sampled for radionuclide content.

Direct exposure to radiation is monitored continuously around the two nuclear power plants using pressurized ionization chambers. The State of Alabama also conducts another direct radiation surveillance program using dozens of thermoluminescent dosimeters stationed around each power plant. These devices measure exposures in the immediate area, and are analyzed each calendar quarter.

Air is monitored for radioactive particles from 13 air monitoring stations. Five of these stations sample particulates only and are operated for one 24-hour period during the week. These monitors are primarily used for emergency planning. All other air samplers are continuously operated for the state surveillance program.

Monthly water samples are taken by the TVA from the Tennessee River. The Southern Nuclear Operating Company takes background and indicator samples from the Chattahoochee River.

AREMP takes additional surface water samples on a quarterly basis. One gallon grab samples are taken from the Tennessee River, the Chattahoochee River, and at various water treatment plants supplied by these rivers. Water samples are received and analyzed by The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

Milk is a major pathway in the food chain in which radioactivity can reach man. Rainfall and wind can potentially deposit radioactive materials on farms, vegetation, and pastures. Such vegetation could be eaten by cows and pose a potential threat to the food chain. Vegetation samples are also used to measure potential accumulation of radioactivity in the vicinity of operating nuclear plants. The samples consist of crops, grasses, weeds, and other above-ground vegetation growing over the preceding three month period. AREMP collects samples quarterly at seven predetermined locations around the two nuclear power facilities in the state.

Semiannual fish samples are collected from the Tennessee and Chattahoochee Rivers and tested for radioactive materials by ADEM.

Discharge sediment samples are also taken and analyzed from each of the nuclear plants.

AREMP operates two continuous monitoring networks, one around each of the operating nuclear plants in the state. These networks consist of twelve monitoring stations. Seven stations are located around Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant and five stations are located around Farley Nuclear Plant.

These stations record instantaneous exposure rate as well as integrated dose over set intervals. They also allow interrogation from the central office via phone lines to each unit. By polling the units on demand, exposure rates can be determined around each power plant in near real time. This added capability will improve the response time in the event of an actual emergency.

Page last updated: March 21, 2023