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Monday, 01 September 2014

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Campaigners' safety fears for beach near Sellafield

Campaigners have raised concerns over safety after an “unusually high” number of radioactive particles were found on a west Cumbrian beach.

Three-times-higher-than-average recordings were discovered on Seascale beach following storms in February. They are now said to be back to normal with no significant risk to anybody’s health.

Experts want to make sure there is also no risk to the public’s health from radioactive particles on the seabed off the Cumbrian coast.

But reassurance work has to be done at the right price because there are far greater potential hazards to be dealt with at Sellafield.

The Environment Agency (EA) is now looking into risk associated with particles found on the seabed where monitoring is taking place.

An EA report says: “The current population size, activity distribution and movement of offshore particles are not sufficiently well known to reassure regulators and other stakeholders that the health risk to seafood consumers and other beach users are ALARP (as low as reasonable practical) and will remain so in the future.”

At a meeting in Cleator Moor, West Cumbria Group nuclear sites watchdog was told by the agency that recommendations have been made in a number of areas and it was looking to develop with Sellafield’s operators a programme aimed at “reducing uncertainty in the risk estimates”.

Rob Allott, for the EA, said: “The risk to beach users is very low but you can never say anything is implausible. So what Health Protection Agency (HPA) recommends is that beach monitoring continues to basically keep an eye on things.

“We’d prefer earlier certainty to understand what is out there and deal with it if necessary or not.”

Martin Forwood from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment said: “If they don’t know what’s happening how can they tell everyone its safe?”

Fellow campaigner Janine Allis-Smith added: “We are asking to have notices about the risks, however low, displayed at the beaches.”

Stakeholders were also told that an “unusually high number” of radioactive particles were found and recovered from Sellafield beach in February – a total of 70 consisting of 64 particles and six stones.

This was nearly three times the recent annual average recorded rate for the same beach.

The EA also reported: “Rates at Seascale in early March were also higher than the recent trend. Initial information suggests that the finds do not correspond with a concentrated cache of particles and stones but rather that rates have increased across all monitored areas of Sellafield beach.”

It added: “Rates at the elevated level did not challenge the current position on risk and the find rates on Sellafield beach were back to normal levels in March.”

Sellafield Ltd had started an investigation into the cause of the increase, but Mr Allott told stakeholders it was likely due to weather conditions, including very strong winds depositing more particles on shore.

Sellafield Ltd said: “HPA’s independent risk assessment concludes that the overall health risk for beach users is very low, significantly lower than other risks people accept when using the beaches, and that no special precautionary actions are required.”

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