Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Environmental Radioactivity PHYS5037

  • Academic Session: 2021-22
  • School: School of Physics and Astronomy
  • Credits: 10
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 1
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

Environmental radioactivity whether of natural or anthropogenic origin provides the major source of ionising radiation exposure within the biosphere. Understanding the physical origins of radionuclides and their associated radiation are important to determining process rates in environmental systems, to analysis and modelling of radiation exposure, to dating geological and archaeological systems, and to impact and risk assessment of accidental or regulated releases to the environment. This course reviews the sources of environmental radionuclides, and their origins, distribution, and behaviour, from a physical science perspective. It aims to provide a physical basis for understanding dosimetry, scientific applications of radionuclides for chronometric and process tracing purposes, and to provide a framework against which the impact of accidental or routine releases of radionuclides from nuclear facilities can be placed with a context based on scientific understanding of existing sources of radiation within environmental systems.


Typically 2 lectures per week

Requirements of Entry


Excluded Courses





Description of Summative Assessment: 


Assessment: Unseen examination, comprising compulsory short questions and a choice of 1 from 2 long questions.


Reassessment: In accordance with the University's Code of Assessment reassessments are normally set for all courses which do not contribute to the honours classifications. For non honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students, and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions are listed below in this box.


Continuous assessment in the form of a 2000 - 3000 word critical study

Main Assessment In: April/May

Course Aims

The aims of this course are:

To review the sources of environmental radioactivity, their origins, production and decay modes and associated ionising radiation forms.

To discuss the distribution, concentrations and dynamics of naturally occurring and anthropogenically produced radionuclides, and their associated radiation dose rates

To introduce methods for quantifying radionuclides in environmental systems for dating purposes, to measure environmental process rates, and to determine concentrations and transfer factors used for dosimetric modelling.

To develop a basis for appraising the impact of human activities, including applications of nuclear technology, on the radiological environment.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Explain the main sources and origins of environmental radioactive from a physical science perspective

Explain the concept of radiation dose and the composition and dynamics of radionuclides in the environment

Debate the impact of nuclear technology on environmental systems and the basis for regulation of future nuclear activities with potential releases to the environment.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.