CORE ‘snapshot’ beach survey: 97% of visitors to St. Bees support ’right to know’
A Review conducted by local pressure group CORE (Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment), making a strong case for the use of signs on West Cumbrian beaches to advise the public on the presence of radioactive particles, has been sent to the Health Protection Agency (HPA now Public Health England), the Environment Agency, the Government’s Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) and other bodies involved in Sellafield Ltd’s beach monitoring programme.
Whilst the current absence of signs on local beaches stems from a combination of HPA advice that the health risk to beach users posed by radioactive particles is very low and local authority concerns that beach signs would adversely impact on the tourist trade, CORE’s Review concludes that HPA’s advice – overtaken by recent events and couched in radiological terminology that for the layperson is difficult to comprehend, is no longer valid. It also concludes that the failure to use signs advising on the presence of radioactive particles denies the public their basic human right to choose whether or not to subject themselves and their families to the risks of radiation by using the beaches.
In making the case for HPA’s advice to be reviewed with urgency, CORE’s Review points to the catalogue of acknowledged uncertainties upon which the advice was based in 2012 and to the more recent admission by nuclear regulators that the behaviour and effects of ‘offshore’ radioactive particles – only now being assessed – is not sufficiently well known for beach users to be assured that the current and future risks posed by offshore particles are ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ (ALARP).
In further weakening HPA advice, the disturbing unknowns and potential threat from offshore particles is compounded by the steady increase in the number of radioactive particles being found annually on West Cumbrian beaches. The figure of 7 particles recorded in Sellafield Ltd’s 2006/7 annual report has risen to 254 being found in 2011/12. As revealed in an assessment commissioned by CORE in 2013, this dramatic increase in particle ‘finds’ has been accompanied by an equally dramatic cut in the beach areas being monitored.
CORE’s health campaigner Janine Allis-Smith said today:
“ In what appears to be little more than a guess in the dark, based on a catalogue of unknowns and unknown unknowns, officialdom is playing fast and loose with the health and safety of West Cumbrian beach users through the continued use of HPA advice that is clearly past its sell-by date. Our Review has urged that an immediate review of the advice is necessary and that the public can only be properly protected from the risks of encountering radioactive particles on West Cumbria’s public beaches through the use of signs and notices”.
Supporting the case for the use of beach signs was a snapshot survey carried out by CORE at St Bees beach this year in which 92 adults (accompanied by 44 children) were questioned. Of those surveyed, 40% were West Cumbrian locals. A total of 71% (including 13% of locals) confirmed that they were unaware of the presence of radioactive particles on St Bees and other local beaches. In an overwhelming response, 97% of those surveyed believed they had a right to know about the presence of radioactive particles and that the use beach signs would be an acceptable means of providing such advice.
St Bees beach had been selected for CORE’s survey on account of its high occupancy rate, the number of radioactive finds and reduction in monitoring area, its regular use by local schoolchildren and for fun-day and similar events targeted for the peak summer holiday period when, at the specific request of local authorities, Sellafield’s beach monitoring programme is deliberately abandoned. Following the beach survey and prompted by queries from some of those surveyed at St Bees, further research by CORE established that information about Sellafield’s beach monitoring programme and the presence of radioactive particles on beaches was wholly absent from local libraries and could only be obtained through the use of official websites which themselves were often less than user friendly – an action unlikely to be taken anyway by potential visitors who are unaware of the issue.
Janine Allis-Smith further commented:
“Letting beach users know about the risk to their children and to themselves of encountering, inhaling or ingesting radioactive particles must be the first line of defence in protecting them. The clear and compelling case for the use of beach signs on our beaches is wholly undermined by official inaction which has not only denied the public the ‘right to know’ and the ‘right to decide’, but also resulted in the total beach area monitored being slashed.
Deliberately abandoning the monitoring programme at the height of the holiday season and ensuring that information about beach particles is hard to come by, not only re-affirms public perception that Sellafield has something to hide, but also that the local council and protection agencies are part of it”. CORE’s Review also points to the use of signs and public notices advising on the presence of radioactive materials already employed at beaches around Dounreay and Dalgety Bay in Scotland, and that similar advice could be adapted for use on signs currently erected around some West Cumbrian beaches which advise on tides, cliff-falls, dog muck and slippery seaweed – but not the presence of radioactive particles.
The Review ‘Radioactive Particles on West Cumbrian Beaches – the case for the provision of signs to advise the public’ can be found at: http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/news/radioactive-particles-on-cumbrian-beaches/