The Chernobyl accident in 1986 resulted in the widespread identification of the post-accident presence of radioactive (or ‘hot’) particles across large areas of Eastern and Central Europe. Such particles arise from direct deposition and also from condensation and interactions on particle surfaces during and following the deposition of soluble fallout. Identification of the presence and nature of hot particles is necessary in order to determine the long-term ecological impact of radioactive fallout. This paper describes several techniques for the identification and characterization of hot particles in soil samples from Belarus. In addition to new results from the use of gamma spectrometry, we include two novel instrumentation approaches that have been developed and applied to Chernobyl fallout-contaminated soils. The first, ‘differential’ autoradiography, utilizes a photographic film sandwich to characterize the nature of the ionizing radiation emitted from samples. In this paper we show that differential autoradiography can not only identify hot particle presence in soil, but can also determine the dominant radionuclide in that particle. The second approach, sector field ICP-MS (ICP-SFMS), can provide rapid, high-precision determination of the actinides, including the transuranic actinides, that characteristically occur in hot particles originating from weapons fallout or fuel matrices. Here, ICP-SFMS is shown to yield sufficiently low detection limits for plutonium isotopes (with the exception of 238Pu) to enable us to confirm negligible presence of plutonium in areas outside the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but with high levels of fission-product contamination.

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