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Dounreay - Past Present Future
The area of beach to the left of you is known as the Dounreay foreshore and is the area where metallic radioactive particles similar in size to a grain of sand have been found at the rate of about one per month. These particles have been found as part of the on-going monitoring programme and are known to originate from the milling of spent nuclear fuel in the 1960s. UKAEA takes this issue very seriously and much work continues to be done on this issue.
While it is not possible to conclusively rule out other sources such as seepage from the shaft, it is now clear from our investigations that the radioactive particles were likely to have been discharged, along with the authorised Low Level Liquid waste, via the old undersea discharge pipeline and Diffuser Chamber in the 1960s and early 1970s. This discharge route is no longer in use and its outlets have been blocked. Since that time they probably have resided in the seabed acting as the source of particles. Work is underway to understand the movement of the particles and the mechanisms that cause them to reach the shore. This way UKAEA and its partners will be able to reach an informed decision on how to address the problem. (full consultation during 2002/03 on the options)
The risk of encountering particles is extremely low. Restrictions on fishing are in place offshore at Dounreay and the only area accessible to the public where particles have been found is Sandside Beach. The particles found at Sandside are significantly less radioactive than those found on the Dounreay foreshore. They are smaller and tend to move in the sea with smaller grains of sand towards Sandside - and the National Radiological Protection Board has advised that ingestion of one is likely to cause “no directly observable effects”. A comprehensive monitoring programme is in place on beaches from Sandside to Thurso. No beach other than Sandside has been affected. On average, the area scanned is approximately 60,000 tonnes of sand at Sandside between each particle find.