Radioactive substances in the sea arise from both natural and man-made sources. Natural inputs result from the breakdown of minerals in the Earth's crust and the action of cosmic radiation. Human activities have resulted in the presence of anthropogenic radionuclides, for instance from nuclear installations (including power- and reprocessing plants) and weapons testing. They have also led to enhanced levels of naturally-occurring radionuclides, such as those linked to the offshore oil and gas industry and the phosphate fertiliser industry. Other potential sources of radioactive substances are former sea-dumping sites.
OSPAR's concern for the possibility of harm to the marine environment and its users (including the consumers of food produced from the marine environment) from inputs of radionuclides caused by human activities is addressed through the Radioactive Substances Strategy. The time frame of the Strategy is that by the year 2020 the Commission will ensure that discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances are reduced to levels where the additional concentrations in the marine environment above historic levels, resulting from such discharges, emissions and losses, are close to zero. The radioactive substances related work is implemented by OSPAR’s Radioactive Substances Committee (RSC).
OSPAR has banned dumping of radioactive waste and encourages use of Best Available Techniques to reduce discharges from the nuclear industry. An overview assessment on national implementation of PARCOM Recommendation 91/4 on Radioactive Discharges is published every 4 years (implementation reports)
Progress in implementing the strategy is evaluated periodically. Reports have been published on reduction in discharges, concentrations and impacts in the environment (publications). A Third Periodic Evaluation of the Progress towards the Objective of the Radioactive Substances Strategy, being an overall assessment of radionuclides in the OSPAR maritime area, was published in 2009.
The OSPAR Commission work on radioactive substances complements that undertaken by other international forums such as the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).