N E W S F E E D S >>>

Caithness News Bulletins March 2005

February 2005 January 2005 Index

Caithness.org News Index

Front Page Archives

Dounreay News Dounreay Web Site  

DUNNET BEACH Update On Contaminated Stone Find
UKAEA has published the results of tests carried out on a contaminated stone discovered during monitoring of the beach at Dunnet on March 2. The tests are inconclusive about the origin of the caesium, but eliminate radioactive deposition from the Chernobyl accident as a source of the contamination. The tests indicate the contamination it is not a particle of the kind found near Dounreay. A full report on the tests can be found at http://www.ukaea.org.uk/news/index.htm  and see below.  Monitoring of the beach at Dunnet is continuing.

UKAEA Will Assist Highland Council To Remove Storm Rubbish At Dunnet
UKAEA has responded to a request for assistance from Highland Council to help repair storm damage and has agreed to provide mechanical assistance to remove large quantities of flotsam and jetsam from the area.

UKAEA has begun a process of mediation with Magnohard Ltd, owner of the estate at Sandside, with a view to reaching a positive settlement of issues arising from the detection and retrieval of radioactive particles at Sandside beach. UKAEA regrets the occurrence of particles at Sandside and the historical practices that gave rise to their release onto the seabed off Dounreay. We recognise the importance of this issue to Magnohard Ltd.  UKAEA is committed to exploring every reasonable avenue open to it in order to reach a fair and just settlement with Magnohard Ltd.

A number of newspapers this week reported that a new court case has been launched against UKAEA Dounreay as a result of historical waste management practices.  UKAEA understands that these reports stemmed from Media Intelligence Partners Ltd, a London-based lobby firm with strong links to political organisations in the USA. Enquiries by UKAEA have established that no new, fresh proceedings have been brought against UKAEA.

UKAEA Briefing Note
Dunnet Beach find – Briefing note (Monday 14th March 2005)
On Wednesday 2nd March RWE Nukem contractors, on behalf of UKAEA, found a small stone like object with a detectable radioactive content during a survey of Dunnet beach. This survey was being carried out following the requirements of SEPA laid out in changes to UKAEA discharge authorisations as issued on 1st October. The survey was required by SEPA in response to concerns raised by members of the Dounreay Particles Advisory Group who want the beach to be monitored for Particles (as currently found at Sandside Bay and on the Dounreay foreshore).

The object was found in a bundle of seaweed and other detritus and the location of the find is marked on the enclosed maps. The object is not a Particle, which are fragments of metallic irradiated nuclear fuel. Preliminary analysis of the find at UKAEA’s particle analysis laboratory on the Dounreay site showed Caesium-137 to be present at around 20,000 Bq and suggested the presence of a minor isotope Niobium-94.This level of Caesium-137 is equivalent to that contained in the least active Particles found
at Sandside.

Further non-destructive tests have been carried out, as agreed with SEPA, who have formally used their pollution control powers to take possession of this find. A longer count of the find in UKAEA’s low-level environmental laboratory confirmed the initial Caesium-137 result (2nd result 23,000 ± 2,600 Bq) and confirmed the presence of tiny traces of Niobium-94 (1.2 ± 0.3 Bq) and of Americium-241 (3.4 ± 0.6 Bq). The activity levels of these two minor isotopes, relative to the Caesium-137 present, are a factor of between about ten to one hundred times lower than typically found for DFR-derived material and on this basis does not match the signature for DFR particles from Dounreay.

Further examination of the object by a qualified geologist has indicated the find is made up of quartz and feldspar, both naturally occurring minerals. The object is fragile and appears to have been damaged by corrosion of some sort. These minerals are found in outcropping rocks in the Melvich area but not around Dunnet or the Dounreay site. The mechanism by which this object was transported to Dunnet beach is not yet clear but it may be related to flotsam driven ashore during storms in January 2005.

Caesium-137 is widely found in the environment as a result of fallout from weapons testing, the Chernobyl accident and discharges made under authorisation from the nuclear industry. Tests carried out so far by UKAEA would discount the activity arising on this object as being related to the Chernobyl accident. Caesium-137 is also used widely in sealed radioactive sources, which have many industrial uses. At present it is not possible to determine the source of the contamination on this object.

Further destructive testing of this object can only be carried out with the permission of SEPA and are likely to have to take place at a specialist laboratory given the nature and fragility of the find. Surveys of Dunnet beach will continue during 2005 as shown on the enclosed indicative schedule. The exact dates of surveying can be affected by operational and environmental factors and may not always match that scheduled.

From measurements of dose rates made on the find, it would have to remain in direct and static contact with the skin for about 1 day to deliver the skin dose limit for a member of the public of 50 mSv/yr. Contact would have to persist for about 1 month to present any visible skin effects.

A visual inspection of the seaweed and other material found in association has been undertaken and found:

  • Plastic “beads” often found on beaches and result from industrial operations

  • Quantity of string and fishing line

  • Bird feathers

  • Plastic packaging tape

  • Straw/grass (dried)

  • Four species of seaweed – Fucus vesiculosis, Ascophylum nodosum, Polysipnonia sp. & Enteromorpha sp.

The package of this flotsam type detritus has now been collected by SEPA. The package contents were checked with a heath physics probe in trays and no counts above background were identified. This detritus does not contain any radioactive particles.