Dounreay Particles Report
21 November 2001

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UKAEA Dounreay today published a review of the monitoring of local beaches for radioactive particles.

It is the first time Dounreay has published an annual report on its arrangements and demonstrates its commitment to keep people informed about the measures being taken to safeguard users of local beaches.

Part of Sandside Beach Near Harbour

Key points of the report include:
No particles were found at any monitored beach used by the public near Dounreay except Sandside Beach.

The number of particles discovered to date in 2001 is 3 at Sandside, 3 at Dounreay and 122 offshore. The number of particles discovered in 2000 was 6 at Sandside, 6 at Dounreay and 115 offshore.

The scientific justification for continuing the current frequency of monitoring at Scrabster and Thurso beaches is weak but monitoring should continue to reassure the public.

Further occasional surveys should be carried out at Melvich Beach to provide additional public reassurance.

There has been better control of the speed of monitoring vehicles as more experience is gained of the variable operating conditions on local beaches.

The findings of the review will assist UKAEA in selecting a contractor, following competitive tender, to continue the monitoring programme for a further four-year period when the present contract expires at the end of January 2002.

The larger volume of sand now being monitored at Sandside between each  particle find suggests the presence of progressively fewer particles at Sandside.

Dr Guy Owen, Dounreay's head of safety and environment, said: 'We recognise we have a duty to keep the public informed about how we monitor local beaches for the presence of radioactive particles and any measures that may be appropriate to provide additional reassurance about their safety. This is the first time we have published an annual review of our monitoring.

'Our performance against the monitoring criteria set by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency improved progressively during the year as UKAEA and its contractor built up experience of the variable conditions we face on local beaches.

'Carrying out scientific monitoring on beaches along the north coast of Scotland presents particular challenges and we have made steady progress in refining the sensitivity of the system used by our contractor. During the year, we identified issues such as the optimum speed of our vehicle and took the appropriate action.

'At Sandside, we are monitoring increasing amounts of sand between each particle - we are now going through approximately 60,000 tonnes on average before we find a particle - and this suggests the presence of progressively fewer particles at Sandside.

'The report concentrates on monitoring only and does not cover the extensive programme of work we are also undertaking to improve our understanding of how the particles reached the marine environment in the first place and how they are moving. We expect this work to culminate in a major consultation exercise in 2003 to consider the options for addressing the particles issue in the longer term.'

Information From UKAEA

1. Seventeen particles similar in size to a grain of sand have been detected at Sandside Beach since 1984. The risk of harm to the public from these particles is very low and the advice of the National Radiological Protection Board is that in the highly unlikely event of someone swallowing a particle, there would be 'no directly observable effects'. UKAEA monitors the beach monthly ? this normally takes about 12 days to complete - and the strandline is monitored once a week.

2. The particles are a legacy of reprocessing operations at Dounreay. We believe they were discharged to sea during the 1960s or early 1970s. UKAEA has expressed regret for the contamination and is committed to addressing this issue as part of the restoration of the environment at Dounreay.

3. The monitoring criteria is set by SEPA. The Dounreay Particles Advisory Group, an independent expert body set up to advise SEPA and UKAEA on this issue, reported in March this year: 'More particles have been detected and retrieved than would have been the case if the system specified in the authorisation had been adhered to. This is an impressive performance by UKAEA.'

4. UKAEA Dounreay is spending approx. 1 million a year on a programme of international research to develop a full understanding of particles and their behaviour in the marine environment.

5. The report, entitled 'Annual Review of Local Beach Monitoring for Radioactivity', is available on the UKAEA website at  

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UKAEA Condemn Speculation Regarding Security

Dounreay's  New Waste Treatment Plant -6 million

Boosting Salmon Flow At Loch Shurrery

Dounreay Decommissioning Update