A team of researchers in the United Arab Emirates have revealed the presence of a significantly lower level of background radiation present in the nation's agricultural topsoil in comparison to the average level of radiation around the world. The team, led by researchers from United Arab Emirates University, University of Sharjah and Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR), published their findings in Current Nutrition & Food Science. The study is the first of kind and represents the first baseline reference survey of background radiation levels in agricultural land in UAE.
Background radiation occurs due to the presence of naturally radioactive isotopes such as, 226Ra, 232Th, and 40K. Humans receive the majority of radiation dosages from naturally occurring sources which includes soil present on agricultural land. The researchers gathered topsoil samples from 145 different farm locations in the country. Each location was mapped with a geographic information system (GIS). Radiation levels in each sample were measured using high-resolution gamma-ray spectrometry. The resulting annual radiation dosage for individuals estimated from the study were revealed to be half the recommended radiation dosages in both indoor and outdoor environments. The results also show that the distribution of radioactivity levels across the different geographical points is uniform.
While natural background radiation is not necessarily a health risk to humans, it is important in measuring the environmental overall radiation level in a location and maintaining a relevant GIS database. For UAE this is especially critical in key environmental impact assessment studies as the country prepares to operate the Barakah nuclear power plant - the first of its four planned civilian nuclear power plants to operate between 2018-2020 - in an effort to meet the nation's growing energy demand. The current study also paves the way for further investigations on the uptake of radionucleotides by local plants and livestock (and by extension, the accumulated radiation levels within), the relative levels of radiation in chemical fertilizers and further improvements to the UAE's radiation level mapping databases. Researchers in other countries can also use the findings to compare geographic data for radiation levels in their region to the corresponding data in the UAE.