January 2002

Radioactivity from Sellafield 150 times worse in north east

The Irish Independent, January 2002
By Treacy Hogan, Environment Correspondent

[Posted 24/01/2002]

RADIOACTIVE contamination from Sellafield found in seaweed is 150 times higher on the north east coast of Ireland than in seaweed on the south and west coasts.

The disclosure was made yesterday by the State's nuclear watchdog, which demanded that British Nuclear Fuels provide any evidence that controversial storage tanks at the plant can withstand a major terrorist attack.

Highlighting new concerns about the safety of tanks holding liquid high-level radioactive waste, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) warned the risk of a terrorist attack there had increased since September 11.

The RPII has also revealed the consequences of an accident stemming from the storage of the liquid waste have not been properly assessed, and that this represents a serious threat for the country.

In its annual report published yesterday the RPII said the discharge of radioactive waste from the Sellafield reprocessing plant is still "the dominant source of contamination in the Irish marine environment."

The RPII said levels of technetium-99 radioactivity in seaweed were 150 times higher on the north-east coast than in seaweed on the south and west coasts.

However, it said that radioactive doses from Sellafield are very small and did not constitute a significant health risk. Technetium-99 levels in fish and shellfish continued to be very low.

People were advised that it was safe to eat seafood landed at Irish ports and to enjoy the maritime recreational amenities such as swimming, walking on the beach or fishing.

But while the levels of technetium-99 had begun to decrease they were still considerably above pre-1994 levels and remained "a significant cause of concern."

It warned: "Any contamination of the Irish Sea arising out of practices at Sellafield is highly objectionable from an Irish viewpoint."

The report said the most significant radioactive contaminants from Sellafield are mainly carried across the Irish sea to the Irish coast, but have even been detected on the Norwegian coast and in Arctic waters.

Although plutonium is deposited in sediment in the Irish sea, it can be released from the seabed and this has become an important contributors to the contamination in the western Irish sea, it says.

The radiation dose to consumers who eat substantial quantities of seafood each day was estimated to be less than two microsieverts, with a small extra dose from recreational activities such as swimming, walking on beaches or fishing.

The size of the dosage was put in context by the RPII: the annual dose to an individual rom all sources of radiation can range from 2,000-20,000 microsieverts or higher in cases of high exposure to radon gas.

The RPII also said that radiation from the Chernobyl disaster is still affecting sheep grazing in upland areas, although regular consumption was not a significant health hazard.

There was a "small but continuing" upward trend for krypton-85 radioactive gas coming from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield, and at La Hague in France and in Russia. However the doses, monitored at Clonskeagh in Dublin, were still very small and not a health hazard, according to the RPII.

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