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Radiation alert at Sellafield sparked by perimeter fence monitor

A radiation alert at Sellafield that forced the company to tell non-essential staff to stay at home was not caused by "a nuclear event."

Sellafield site photo

The elevated radioactive activity detected this morning by a perimeter monitor was caused by naturally-occurring background radon.

Standard weekend working operations will continue, with day staff due back in on Monday as normal, says the firm.

A company statement this afternoon said: "Our in-air monitors are extremely sensitive and pick up on any abnormality. Overnight the monitoring system initially indicated elevated levels of activity. Following investigation and analysis, we can now confirm these levels to be naturally occurring background radon."

"The number one priority for us is, at all times, safe secure stewardship of the Sellafield site, which is the most complex and challenging nuclear site in Europe.

"As such we act in a safety conscious manner, and take cautious, conservative decisions, such as the one taken overnight to ask non-safety essential staff to stay at home this morning, rather than come to the site.

"All of our plants and storage facilities were quickly confirmed as operating normally, and we were always confident that the issue posed no risk to the workforce or public because the levels being detected, whilst above background radiation levels, were still low. This view was reinforced by the fact that none of our other installed monitors were picking up any kind of increased levels – however, we take such issues so seriously that we investigated fully to confirm that everything was okay."

Sellafield had moved swiftly in response to what it initially termed an "operational condition" and suspended day operations.

The company stressed there was no risk to the public or employees and that was backed by Richard Paynter, deputy director of the Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards at Public Health England.

He said: “PHE experts are liaising with the Office for Nuclear Regulation and are keeping a careful watch on events at Sellafield.

"We have seen nothing to suggest there is any risk to public health at this time. Issues onsite are matters for the operator and appropriate regulators.”

The Office for Nuclear Regulation, an agency of the Health and Safety Executive, said it was satisfied appropriate action was being taken at the site. "We will continue to monitor the situation and to maintain a regular dialogue with Sellafield," it added.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change said it was aware of the situation and was "in touch" with the company.

Prospect, which represents 5,000 workers at the plant, said Sellafield's actions, following the increased radioactivity readings at the  monitor, had been sensible.

It added the elevated numbers were "within acceptable limits and are not a danger to human health or to the plant."

National secretary Gill Wood said: "Higher than normal radiation readings have been detected at one monitor at a perimeter fence. As a precaution, non-essential staff have been advised to stay at home today while the relevant specialist team investigates.

"The company's decision to partially close some areas at the site is a precautionary and measured decision and a safety measure that is recognised worldwide."

Sellafield said the monitor detected heightened levels at the north end of the sprawling site.

An earlier statement said: "In response to an operational condition on the Sellafield site a conservative and prudent decision has been taken, to operate the site at reduced manning levels, commensurate with safe operations."

The firm then added: "Levels of radioactivity detected are above naturally occurring radiation but well below that which would call for any actions to be taken by the workforce on or off the site.

"The site is at normal status and employees and operational plants are continuing to operate as investigations continue. All our facilities have positively confirmed there are no abnormal conditions and are operating normally."

It was decided the site should be operated on shift manning levels. All day personnel, including contractors, and five and seven day double day workers, were asked to remain at home unless asked to attend.

All five cycle, 12 hour continuous shift, laundry, canteen, utilities and transport personnel were told to attend as normal. It is estimated about 8,000 workers may be affected by today's instruction.

Employees at Westlakes, the Vertex Centre and other sites across west Cumbria were not affected.

Staff were told to contact their line manager - not the site shift manager - if they had any queries.

In mid-morning, anti-nuclear group CORE (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment) said Sellafield had to do more to instil public confidence and stop sending out what it called "mixed mesages".

Spokesman Martin Forwood said: “We understand that it may take some time for the company to track down the exact source of the raised activity but the sooner they level with the public by providing a more coherent explanation of what’s going on the better.

"The world and his dog will remember well that some the world’s worst nuclear accidents were initially portrayed as being of no consequence and no risk to the public.”

Have your say

Hmmm My facts ? I dont recall stating any facts , the factual statement was what you claimed . If I touched a nerve then sorry pal , its just was my critical opinion on things .

Posted by The Honest Critic on 12 February 2014 at 00:40

@The Honest Critic

and what do you base your facts on? how can you be a "critic" of something you clearly no nothing about? I suggest you get in the real world because the place you inhabit is a fantasy land.

Posted by sensible on 10 February 2014 at 21:50

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