Particles On Beaches - the Facts
The latest on monitoring from the people doing the job

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A total of 17 radioactive particles similar in size to a grain of sand have been found on Sandside Beach since 1984. No particles have been found on any other publicly-accessible beach.

The level of monitoring at Sandside is based on expert assessment of the risk to the public, which is very low.  The National Radiological Protection Board has issued advice that in the unlikely event of someone swallowing a typical particle found at Sandside, there would be "no directly observable effect".

Every month, UKAEA carries out a complete monitoring survey of the beach.  This normally takes about 10 days to complete. In addition, the strandline is monitored every week.  The level of monitoring is regulated by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and is commensurate with the level of risk from the particles.  The independent Dounreay Particles Advisory Group recently confirmed that UKAEA's monitoring complies with the requirements of SEPA.

UKAEA recently extended monitoring to include approximately 70,000 m2 of the adjoining golf course and 62,100 m2 of sand dunes.  No particle contamination was found. UKAEA does not believe there is cause for concern about the safety of the golf course. The current monitoring of the beach provides additional reassurance.

UKAEA has given an indemnity to Highland Council against claims for injury or damage arising from public use of the beach. A similar indemnity has since been offered to Sandside Estate. Initially, this was not accepted, possibly because the estate owner was under the mistaken impression that the offer was conditional, but the estate's solicitors now have a draft indemnity for consideration. 

The Nuclear Installations Act 1965 protects both the estate and Highland Council from third party claims by channelling all claims to UKAEA as the relevant nuclear operator, which has sole and strict liability for injury or damage caused by nuclear material from Dounreay.

Sandside Estate has advised UKAEA that access to the beach for monitoring purposes will be withdrawn after July 31 unless substantial and onerous changes are made to the monitoring, a formal access agreement is confirmed and indemnity is offered. UKAEA has agreed to meet the last two requests but has advised the estate that the monitoring changes proposed cannot be justified on the basis of the known risk, as assessed by independent and expert bodies, and would be an unjustifiable use of public funds. 

The assessment of the level of risk and the current monitoring programme provides reassurance that the beach is safe to use. UKAEA does not believe it is in anyone's interests for the monitoring programme to be stopped.

UKAEA sought to address the estate's complaint about the perceived effect of contamination on Sandside Estate by offering to acquire the beach for a specified sum which UKAEA considered to be fair, or the independent market valuation, whichever is greater, and grant the estate the exclusive right to buy it back at the same price any time in the future. The offer included unrestricted rights of access and use of the beach by the estate owner, his family, employees and agents. The offer has not been accepted.

In addition to the monitoring arrangements, UKAEA is spending in the region of 1 million a year on surveys and research into particle contamination to enable detailed proposals to be developed for public consultation about how to address this issue in the longer term.