Incorporation of organic tritium (3H) by marine organisms and sediment in the severn estuary/Bristol channel (UK)

Mar Pollut Bull. 2001 Oct;42(10):852-63. doi: 10.1016/s0025-326x(01)00039-x.


Discharges of tritium (3H) into the Severn estuary/Bristol Channel (UK) arise from the authorized release of wastes from nuclear power plants at Hinkley Point and Berkley/Oldbury and from the Nycomed-Amersham radiochemical plant, via the sewer system, at Cardiff. The wastes from the nuclear power plants probably consist almost entirely of 3H2O, whereas those from the radiochemical plant also include uncharacterized 3H labelled organic compounds. The total 3H concentrations in demersal fish and other benthic organisms in the vicinity of the Cardiff Eastern sewer outfall are significantly elevated compared to those observed around other UK nuclear establishments. Concentrations in filtered seawater were approximately 10 Bq kg(-1) whilst levels in surface sediment, seaweed (Fucus vesiculosis) and mussels (Mytilus edulis)/flounder (Platichthys flesus) were in the order of 6 x 10(2), 2 x 10(3), and 10(5) Bq kg(-1) (dry weight), respectively. Almost all the 3H found in sediment and biota were organically bound tritium (OBT). The high concentration in these materials, relative to that in seawater, is due to the presence of bioavailable organic 3H labelled compounds in the radiochemical waste. It is suggested that bioaccumulation of 3H by benthic organisms and demersal fish occurs primarily via a pathway of physico-chemical sorption/bacterial transformation of dissolved 3H labelled organic compounds into particulate organic matter, and subsequent transfer up a web of sediment dwelling microbes and meiofauna. Variations in 3H accumulation between individual organisms have been interpreted in terms of their different feeding behaviour. Relatively low concentrations were observed in the herbivorous winkle (Littorina littorea) and the pelagic Sprat (Spratus spratus) compared with other benthic organisms and demersal fish. The elevated 3H concentrations in seafood, due to bioaccumulation of OBT, have low radiological significance even for the local critical group of seafood consumers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Biological Availability
  • Bivalvia / metabolism*
  • Flounder / metabolism*
  • Food Chain
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Polychaeta / metabolism
  • Power Plants
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Seawater / chemistry
  • Seaweed / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tritium / metabolism
  • Tritium / pharmacokinetics*
  • United Kingdom
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive / pharmacokinetics*


  • Radioactive Waste
  • Water Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Tritium