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Radon in Groundwater Baseline Study Prior to Unconventional Shale Gas Development and Hydraulic Fracturing in the Karoo Basin 

May 2019 - Applied Radiation and Isotopes

Botha R, Labuschagne C, Williams A.G, Bosman G, Brunke E-G, Rossouw A, Lindsay R

The prospect of unconventional shale gas development in the semi-arid Karoo Basin (South Africa) has created the prerequisite to temporally characterise the natural radioactivity in associated groundwater which is solely depended on for drinking and agriculture purposes. Radon (222Rn) was the primary natural radionuclide of interest in this study; however, supplementary radium (226Ra and 228Ra) in-water measurements were also conducted. A total of 53 aquifers spanning three provinces were studied during three separate measurement campaigns from 2014 to 2016. The Karoo Basin's natural radon-in-water levels can be characterised by a minimum of 1 ± 1 Bq/L (consistent with zero or below LLD), a maximum of 183 ± 18 Bq/L and mean of 41 ± 5 Bq/L. The mean radon-in-water levels for shallow aquifers were systematically higher (55 ± 10 Bq/L) compared to deep (14 ± 3 Bq/L) or mixed aquifers (20 ± 6 Bq/L). Radon-in-water activity concentration fluctuations were predominantly observed from shallow aquifers compared to the generally steady levels of deep aquifers. A collective seasonal mean radon-in-water levels increase from the winter of 2014 (44 ± 8 Bq/L) to winter of 2016 (61 ± 16 Bq/L) was noticed which could be related to the extreme national drought experienced in 2015. Radium-in-water (228Ra and 226Ra) levels ranged from below detection level to a maximum of 0.008 Bq/L (226Ra) and 0.015 Bq/L (228Ra). The 228Ra/226Ra ratio was characterised by a minimum of 0.93, a maximum of 6.5 and a mean value of 3.3 ± 1.3. Developing and improving baseline naturally occurring radionuclide groundwater databases is vital to study potential radiological environmental impacts attributed to industrial processes such as hydraulic fracturing or mining.

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Characterising Fifteen Years of Continuous Atmospheric Radon Activity Observations at Cape Point​

December 21, 2017 - Atmospheric Environment

Botha R, Labuschagne C, Williams A.G, Bosman G, Brunke E-G, Rossouw A, Lindsay R

This paper describes and discusses fifteen years (1999–2013) of continuous hourly atmospheric radon (222Rn) monitoring at the coastal low-altitude Southern Hemisphere Cape Point Station in South Africa. A strong seasonal cycle is evident in the observed radon concentrations, with maxima during the winter months, when air masses arriving at the Cape Point station from over the African continental surface are more frequently observed, and minima during the summer months, when an oceanic fetch is predominant. An atmospheric mean radon activity concentration of 676 ± 2 mBq/m3 is found over the 15-year record, having a strongly skewed distribution that exhibits a large number of events falling into a compact range of low values (corresponding to oceanic air masses), and a smaller number of events with high radon values spread over a wide range (corresponding to continental air masses). The mean radon concentration from continental air masses (1 004 ± 6 mBq/m3) is about two times higher compared to oceanic air masses (479 ± 3 mBq/m3). The number of atmospheric radon events observed is strongly dependent on the wind direction. A power spectral Fast Fourier Transform analysis of the 15-year radon time series reveals prominent peaks at semi-diurnal, diurnal and annual timescales. Two inter-annual radon periodicities have been established, the diurnal 0.98 ± 0.04 day−1 and half-diurnal 2.07 ± 0.15 day−1. The annual peak reflects major seasonal changes in the patterns of offshore versus onshore flow associated with regional/hemispheric circulation patterns, whereas the diurnal and semi-diurnal peaks together reflect the influence of local nocturnal radon build-up over land, and the interplay between mesoscale sea/land breezes. The winter-time diurnal radon concentration had a significant decrease of about 200 mBq/m3 (17%) while the summer-time diurnal radon concentration revealed nearly no changes. A slow decline in the higher radon percentiles (75th and 95th) for the winter and spring seasons is found over the 15-year data set, with most of the change occurring in the first 9 years (1999–2007). This observed inter-annual decline appears to be associated with changes in the frequency of air masses having originated from over the African continental surfaces, and no significant trend is found in the lower radon percentiles associated with oceanic air masses. The general decrease of atmospheric radon-associated with continental air-masses at Cape Point could be attributed to changing meteorological conditions, possibly driven by climate change.

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Radon and Thoron In-Air Occupational Exposure Study Within Selected Cellars of the Western Cape (South Africa, and Associated Annual Effective Doses

January 2017 - Health Physics Journal

Botha R, Newman RT, Lindsay R, Maleka PP.

This is the first known study of exposure of Rn (radon) and secondarily Rn (thoron) in-air activity concentrations assessed within nine selected wine cellars in four wine districts of the Western Cape (South Africa) and the associated annual occupational effective doses. E-PERM electret ion chambers (EIC) and RAD-7 α-detectors were used to perform these measurements. The radon in-air levels ranged from 12 ± 4 Bq m to 770 ± 40 Bq m within the nine selected wine cellars. Eight of the nine wine cellars (excluding results from cellar w-6) had a median radon in-air activity concentration of 48 ± 8 Bq m. Continuous thoron in-air activity concentration levels were also measured near an internal granite wall of the wine cellar w-6 (barrel room), where peak levels of up to 1,520 ± 190 Bq m and an average of 680 ± 30 Bq m were observed. The occupational annual effective dose due to radon and decay progeny exposure in-air within the selected wine cellars ranged from 0.08 ± 0.03 mSv to 4.9 ± 0.3 mSv with a median of 0.32 ± 0.04 mSv (Tmax = 2,000 h). The annual effective dose within the wine cellar (w-6) ranged up to a maximum of 2.5 ± 0.4 mSv (Tmax = 2000 h) due to exposure to thoron and decay progeny. In general, most of the wines cellars pose negligible associated health risk to personnel due to ionizing radiation exposure from the inhalation of radon and progeny. Under certain conditions (proximity and exposure time), caution should be exercised at wine cellar w-6 because of elevated thoron in-air levels.

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Radon Levels Measured at a Touristic Thermal Spa Resort in Montagu (South Africa) and Associated Effective Doses

September 2016 - Health Physics Journal

Botha R., Newman RT, Maleka PP.

Radon activity concentrations (in water and in air) were measured at 13 selected locations at the Avalon Springs thermal spa resort in Montagu (Western Cape, South Africa) to estimate the associated effective dose received by employees and visitors. A RAD-7 detector (DURRIDGE), based on alpha spectrometry, and electret detectors (E-PERM®Radelec) were used for these radon measurements. The primary source of radon was natural thermal waters from the hot spring, which were pumped to various locations on the resort, and consequently a range of radon in-water analyses were performed. Radon in-water activity concentration as a function of time (short term and long term measurements) and spatial distributions (different bathing pools, etc.) were studied. The mean radon in-water activity concentrations were found to be 205 ± 6 Bq L (source), 112 ± 5 Bq L (outdoor pool) and 79 ± 4 Bq L (indoor pool). Radon in-air activity concentrations were found to range between 33 ± 4 Bq m (at the outside bar) to 523 ± 26 Bq m (building enclosing the hot spring's source). The most significant potential radiation exposure identified is that due to inhalation of air rich in radon and its progeny by the resort employees. The annual occupational effective dose due to the inhalation of radon progeny ranges from 0.16 ± 0.01 mSv to 0.40 ± 0.02 mSv. For the water samples collected, the Ra in-water activity concentrations from samples collected were below the lower detection limit (~0.7 Bq L) of the γ-ray detector system used. No significant radiological health risk can be associated with radon and progeny from the hot spring at the Avalon Springs resort.

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Radon Studies