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Caithness News Bulletins March 2005

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17 March 05
Answers to Parliamentary Questions about the steps being taken to address radioactive particles detected and retrieved from the beach at Sandside and their potential health effects have been published.

The answers by Energy Minister Mike O'Brien reiterate previously-published advice from a committee of independent experts that the chances of a member of the public coming into contact with a radioactive particle on the beach at Sandside Bay continue to be "extremely small".

In the unlikely event of someone swallowing a particle typical of those detected and retrieved at Sandside beach, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment says the radiation dose would be "roughly equivalent to the average UK annual background radiation dose".

Particles are similar in size to a grain of sand and have been detected at Sandside since 1984. A total of 55 particles have been removed from the beach, which contains an estimated 15 thousand million million grains of sand.

The full text of Mr O'Brien's statement, in response to a question from Mr Ian Duncan Smith, is:
"Public health is a devolved matter for the Scottish Executive. However I am informed that in recent years, a number of independent expert organisations including the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE), the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee and the National Radiological Protection Board have investigated and advised the Government, UKAEA and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) on the potential health risks from particles of radioactive material found on Sandside Beach. This advice has considered both the likelihood of exposure to such a particle by inhalation, ingestion or skin contact and the resultant health risks should such an exposure occur. COMARE tells the DTI that the probability of a member of the public encountering a particle remains extremely small and the estimated radiation dose to an individual consequent upon ingestion of a typical particle from Sandside Bay is roughly equivalent to the average UK-annual background radiation dose (2 millisieverts). SEPA has commissioned additional research to further refine this latter estimate."

In a separate question about the actions being taken by UKAEA to address this legacy, the Minister states:
Environmental monitoring and the regulation of radioactive discharges are devolved matters for the Scottish Executive.

However, UKAEA undertakes an extensive beach monitoring programme using sophisticated vehicular radiation detection systems. Since 1999, these systems have regularly monitored five local beaches: Sandside, Crosskirk, Brims, Scrabster and Thurso. These are situated between 3 km west (Sandside) and 13 km east (Thurso) of Dounreay. Reassurance surveys of Melvich beach, some 10 km west of Dounreay, have been carried out on two occasions and an extensive survey of Dunnet beach, approximately 23 km east of Dounreay, has now commenced. The foreshore at Dounreay is also monitored by the vehicular system.

UKAEA have advised the department that:
Radioactive particles have only been found on one public beach, Sandside (although on 2 March, the third day of a 60 day survey, a stone-like object emitting low levels of radioactivity was found at Dunnet Beach which has been taken to Dounreay for laboratory analysis). When a particle is detected it is immediately removed.

The monitoring detects radioactivity down to a level in the top 10cm of sand that is below that considered by independent experts to be of significant risk to human health.

The current monitoring has been demonstrated to be capable of being compliant with the regulatory requirements of SEPA.

All particles detected during monitoring are removed and returned to Dounreay for analysis. The results are reported to regulators.

UKAEA is currently investigating whether there are detection systems which are superior to those available at present for beach monitoring.

In the case of particles buried in the seabed off Dounreay, UKAEA have undertaken an extensive series of research programmes aimed at understanding the distribution, mobility and properties of particles in the marine environment.

Since 1997, divers have been mapping the number and distribution of particles in offshore sediments. As part of this work, the divers have detected and retrieved over 800 particles from the seabed off the coast at Dounreay.

UKAEA is concerned about the inherent occupational risks associated with extensive use of divers. Consequently, UKAEA seeks to limit the use of divers and has developed with their contractor a remotely-operated vehicle (ROV) capable of crawling the seabed and identifying the radiation emitted by particles present within the sediment. Last year, it mapped the locations of over 120 buried particles in survey areas totalling 30,000 sq. metres.

A further 2 or 3 year programme of mapping of the offshore particles will commence in summer 2005 using a remotely operated system. The information from this work will be used to assess the extent of the particle distribution offshore, to validate a computer model of particle dispersion and to assess the risks to any of the local beaches.

This information from offshore studies will be used, together with the information from beach monitoring, as inputs to the consultation process which will identify the Best Practicable Environmental Option for dealing with this legacy.

14 March 05
UKAEA has not been informed of any "new" court action, other than from journalists today seeking comment on a press release issued on behalf of Mr Geoffrey Minter by Media Intelligence Partners Ltd. UKAEA had agreed to seek mediation with Magnohard Ltd, owner of Sandside Estate, to settle issues arising from the detection and retrieval of radioactive particles from the beach at Sandside Bay, and is therefore disappointed by today's news. The Media Intelligence Partners' statement contains a number of
misleading and inaccurate assertions:

Whistle-blower Herbie Lyall was a safety inspector

Incorrect. Mr Lyall was not a safety inspector. Extensive enquiries have found no evidence to substantiate the claims by Mr Lyall and Mr Minter that a 1984 particle find was covered up. It has found evidence that contradicts their account of events.

Secret papers released under Freedom of Information laws have pointed to the cover-up of the discovery of a particle.

Incorrect. The papers published by UKAEA confirm the accuracy of the complete list of particles published on the UKAEA website, and contain no evidence a particle was covered-up.

Only now is UKAEA fitting a filter to the sea discharge pipeline which would have averted the problem

Misleading. Particles were known to have been generated in the fuel pondsat Dounreay. Filters were fitted to these ponds 20 years ago.

Mr Minter has scored several notable legal victories over UKAEA

Misleading. During the present proceedings, Magnohard Ltd and the Minter family failed to persuade the Court of Session to intervene in the monitoring programme at Sandside, being the principle grounds for their application against UKAEA.

Minister confesses safety standards have been breached

Misleading. The full text of the Parliamentary Answer given by Mike O'Brien and published on March 3 states:
Regulation of radioactive discharges from nuclear sites is a devolved matter for the Scottish Executive.
A principle objective of the system used for the management of radioactive effluent at Dounreay has been to prevent particulate getting into the effluent at source. UKAEA recognises that the methods used to achieve this during the early years of the plant's operation were not wholly effective and would not be acceptable by today's standards.

Over many years, improvements have been carried out to improve the control of particulate in liquid effluent. These improvements include the replacement of the low-active drain in the late 1970s and the installation in the early to mid 1980s of filters to the discharge outlets of facilities where particles are known to have originated. A new sea discharge pipeline was installed circa 1990 and a new Low Level Liquid Effluent Treatment Plant was commissioned in 2003. The new effluent treatment plant is designed to facilitate the settlement and removal of solids from the site's active liquid effluent. In parallel with the construction and commissioning of the new effluent treatment plant, a wide range of investigations were carried out to determine whether there were still particles in the site's active liquid effluent system. These investigations failed to find any evidence that particles were still being discharged from the site.

The installation of final filtration at the point of discharge to sea from the new effluent treatment plant is currently being undertaken and will provide additional reassurance that particles are not being discharged from the site.

13 March 05
There has been extensive media interest at a local, Scottish and UK level in historical practices at Dounreay following allegations that the discovery of a second metallic particle at Sandside Beach in 1984 was covered up by the then management.

A former employee, Mr Herbie Lyall, supported by the land-owner at Sandside, has alleged that a large particle found by he and two colleagues on the beach at Sandside Bay was not reported. Any suggestion that he had confused similar particles found on the foreshore at Dounreay would be untrue because Mr Lyall was “emphatic” he had never been allowed access to monitor the foreshore at Dounreay.

Following a further review of records and interviews of former and current employees at Dounreay during the 1980s, UKAEA has now established that:

  • Mr Lyall was involved in monitoring the foreshore at Dounreay.

  • A particle resembling the one alleged to have been covered up at Sandside was found by Mr Lyall on the foreshore at Dounreay in 1988.

  • The report signed at the time by Mr Lyall and two colleagues is consistent with the list of all particles found in the marine environment and published on the UKAEA website.

  • There continues to be no evidence of a second metallic particle found
    at Sandside in 1984.

In view of the extensive media interest in this matter, UKAEA is making widely available the contents of a letter sent to the local newspaper, the John O’Groat Journal, for publication. A copy of this letter is attached.

Fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel were generated at Dounreay during reprocessing work. In recent years, surveys have detected the presence of fragments in the sediment of the seabed around a disused outlet for radioactive effluent. UKAEA regrets the discharge to sea of these fragments at some point or points in the past.

Addressing this legacy is an integral part of the decommissioning and clean-up programme for Dounreay. In recent years, UKAEA has spent on average £1 million a year on monitoring, scientific research and offshore surveys. UKAEA is working closely with a number of organisations and independent experts to bring forward options for public consultation to identify the Best Practicable Environmental Option. An independent steering group has been set up to oversee the transparency of this process.

UKAEA is continuing to monitor a number of beaches used by the public to criteria laid down by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. UKAEA is also required to monitor the foreshore at Dounreay, which is not open to the public. To date, particles have been found on the foreshore at Dounreay and the beach at Sandside Bay, as well as the offshore sediments. Detailed information about every particle detected and removed from the marine environment can be viewed at www.ukaea.org.uk/dounreay/particles.htm

Full text of letter to the John O’Groat Journal - 12 March 2005:

Dear Sir,
You kindly published my letter on February 18, setting out UKAEA’s position in response to the views of Mr Minter and Mr Lyall about the truth of the metallic particle find or finds at Sandside Beach in 1984.

Since then, there has been further publicity in the national and local media in Scotland and the UK about the truth of this matter.

To summarise the views of Mr Lyall and Mr Minter, Mr Lyall and two unidentified surveyors discovered a large metallic particle, with radiation dose rates of 50 mSv beta-gamma and 3 mSv gamma. This metallic particle was found at Sandside in 1984, and should not be confused with metallic particles found on the Dounreay foreshore because Mr Lyall was never allowed access to survey the foreshore at Dounreay.

In light of the ongoing publicity, I instructed colleagues to review the checks we had carried out and widen the scope of their search of historical records to see if we had missed anything that would support this. UKAEA has also spoken to a number of present and former staff who worked on these issues during the time in question.

I did this because the continuing uncertainty about what happened 20 years ago could significantly affect the options for public consultation, particularly those affecting Sandside Beach, the outcome of which will be funded by the taxpayer. The uncertainty could also influence the mediation between UKAEA and Magnohard Ltd, the owner of Sandside Estate, to reach a settlement on issues raised by Magnohard Ltd, the outcome of which may also have implications for the taxpayer.

The further review of records and memories of staff, past and present, found no evidence to support the finding of a second metallic particle at Sandside in 1984.

It did find evidence that Mr Lyall was involved in surveying the foreshore at Dounreay. It uncovered a document signed by H. Lyall and two surveyors, dated December 21, 1988, recording the detection and retrieval from the foreshore at Dounreay of a particle with radiation dose rates of 50 mSv beta-gamma and 2.5 mSv gamma.

The particle found by Mr Lyall and two colleagues during a survey of the Dounreay foreshore in 1988 is consistent with the detailed list of all particles found in the marine environment around Dounreay and published on the UKAEA website.

Therefore it is possible that Mr Lyall has correctly recalled his finding of a particle in terms of its activity levels but has wrongly recollected the date and location of this find. If Mr Lyall believes that he found more than one particle or any other former employees have further information, which may be relevant in resolving this matter, I would repeat my invitation for them to contact me directly as this is a matter of great concern to UKAEA.

Mark Liddiard,
Environmental Programme Manager,
UKAEA Dounreay.
12 March 2005

13 March 05
UKAEA is aware of a number of allegations being made about historical practices at Dounreay.

The latest of these involves a third party who has been hawking claims around a number of newspapers regarding the whereabouts of a radioactive source reported missing at Dounreay in 1989.

At the time, the then site management appealed publicly for information about this source and carried out extensive searches, on-site and off-site. The disappearance of the source was reported by the media in 1989.

Today's media report is a blatant reheat of an old story published in the1980s. It beggars belief that, 16 years later, the Sunday Herald has chosen to present this as "news", or that an anonymous third party who claims to have information regarding the whereabouts of this item approached newspapers rather than the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority or UKAEA.

We would question the motives of any individual or organisation that puts publicity and scaremongering before public safety in this way.

UKAEA today is committed to cleaning up the legacy of Britain’s nuclear heritage in an open and transparent manner on behalf of the public who funds this work. Our only interest today in Dounreay is to ensure that this clean-up work is carried out in a way that safeguards the public and the environment.

If anyone has genuine or new information about legacies of Dounreay’s operational past that would assist this task of decommissioning the site safely, we would urge them to do the responsible thing and report this to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority or UKAEA.

Radiation device ‘lost or stolen’ at Dounreay - Sunday Herald

12 March 05
UKAEA Hits Back On Rehashed Old News Story

UKAEA is aware that a number of allegations connected with Dounreay have suddenly been raised in the Scottish and English media. All relate to events dating from the 1980s or much earlier. Many were covered widely in the media at that time. Others have proved impossible to substantiate, either from site records or the memory of people who worked at Dounreay at the time.

Whatever the motivation behind this spate of old news stories, it cannot be right to raise public fears about safety at the site today. UKAEA regrets any practices in the past which failed to meet the safety standards of the time, but the public should be clear that they are absolutely not a reflection of current practice.

Since those days, the mission of the site has changed from nuclear operations to nuclear clean-up. Plants have closed and are being decommissioned. In 1998, the independent safety and environmental regulators audited Dounreay with a fine tooth comb – UKAEA accepted and implemented their many recommendations. Closing out that audit in January 2002, Laurence Williams, then NII Chief Inspector, said: "I have seen considerable progress ….. and this is a credit to everyone concerned, particularly the staff at Dounreay".

UKAEA today is very different from the organisation which ran Dounreay 20 to 30 years ago. It has a new management team, whose first and highest priority is safety. The programme is clearly focused on clearing the legacy of the past through decommissioning and clean-up of the site, and today’s safety standards – as in all aspects of life – are unrecognisable by comparison with those of the past. Our safety and environmental systems are sound and our track record is among the best in British industry.

The new management team’s ambition for Dounreay is to create a Scottish centre of expertise in decommissioning that can lead the world. It would be a pity if these scare stories from the past were to damage the realisation of that opportunity for Caithness and the UK.

UKAEA is responsible for managing the decommissioning of the nuclear reactors and other radioactive facilities used for the UK’s nuclear research and development programme, in a safe and environmentally sensitive manner. UKAEA’s decommissioning sites are at Dounreay, Caithness; Windscale, Cumbria; Harwell, Oxfordshire; and Winfrith, Dorset. UKAEA is also responsible for the UK’s contribution to the European fusion research programme at its Culham site and for maximising the income from its land and buildings.

Links To What Was In The Press
Dounreay Under Fire All Over The Press As Particles Story Goes Worldwide
Here are just a few of the items on the web on this topic
Demand for Dounreay to face 'cowboy bosses' probe Scotsman
Ex-safety officer at Dounreay claims cover-up The Herald
'Regret' over Dounreay Radioactive Discharge Scotsman
The Mercury - South Africa
Radio active waste washed into sea in Britain: report: New Kerala - India
Nuclear waste 'dumped' Gulf Daily News
Reckless nuclear Plant dumps Waste on beaches - The Sunday Times
Contaminated stone found on beach 15 miles from nuclear plant  - the Herald
Dounreay waste claims dismissed BBC News
Demand for Dounreay to face 'cowboy bosses' probe - Scotsman
Many eyes have turned on Dounreay following the SEPA report to the procurator fiscals office last month as in this BBC report
Nuclear waste dumped on Britain’s beaches Daily Times Pakistan

Essentially this was a very old story rehashed with no new facts.

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