The primary environmental concern related to nuclear power is the production of radioactive waste hazardous to humans and the environment. The main scientific and technological problems to address this are related to the storage and disposal of the nuclear waste and monitoring the dispersion of radioactive species into the environment. In this work, we determined an anomalously high 14C activity, well above the modern natural background, on surface and seasonal snow sampled in early May 2019 on glaciers in the Hornsund fjord area (Svalbard). Due to the lack of local sources, the high snow concentrations of 14C suggest long-range atmospheric transport of nuclear waste particles from lower latitudes, where nuclear power plants and treatment stations are located. The analysis of the synoptic and local meteorological data allowed us to associate the long-range transport of this anomalous 14C concentration to an intrusion event of a warm and humid air mass that likely brought pollutants from Central Europe to the Arctic in late April 2019. Elemental and organic carbon, trace element concentration data, and scanning electron microscopy morphological analysis were performed on the same snow samples to better constrain the transport process that might have led to the high 14C radionuclide concentrations in Svalbard. In particular, the highest 14C values found in the snowpack (> 200 percent of Modern Carbon, pMC) were associated with the lowest OC/EC ratios (< 4), an indication of an anthropogenic industrial source, and with the presence of spherical particles rich in iron, zirconium, and titanium which, altogether, suggest an origin related to nuclear waste reprocessing plants. This study highlights the role of long-range transport in exposing Arctic environments to human pollution. Given that the frequency and intensity of these atmospheric warming events are predicted to increase due to ongoing climate change, improving our knowledge of their possible impact to Arctic pollution is becoming urgent.
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