Sellafield Ltd’s announcement of two ‘unusual finds’ on West Cumbrian beaches in May and June of this year – attributed to the new Groundhog Synergy 2 monitoring system introduced in May – should be ringing public health alarms in the corridors of those tasked to protect beach users from the radioactive materials routinely washed up on local beaches from Sellafield’s historic discharges to the Irish Sea.
Whilst discovery on the beach at Sellafield of a radioactive stone in May bearing the highest level of Caesium 137 discovered since the current monitoring programme began is of great concern, the subsequent discovery in June of a radioactive particle on the more publicly accessible beach at Seascale requires urgent precautionary action to be taken by the Authorities to protect the general public.
This Seascale particle was found to have a radioactive contact dose rate of 2.8 milliSievert per hour (mSv/hr). Given that the Statutory Public Dose Limit for members of the public for a whole year is just 1 mSv (1mSv/yr), the particle clearly has the potential to pose a significant health risk to the public. Comprised of Caesium-137, Americium-241, Europium-154 & 155 and probably Strontium-90, the particle has been described by the Environment Agency (EA) as ‘being unusual as it was emitting mainly beta rather than gamma radiation’.
Despite the health risk from this significant radiation dose rate, and having been asked for advice by the EA, PHE has responded that whilst the radioactive particle did not pose a greater risk from ingestion than those found to date, ’the skin dose rate is at or around the value at which their risk assessment should be reviewed’. Following further analysis of the particle, PHE has advised the EA that the finding of the Seascale particle cannot in itself represent a substantial public health risk but that there should be a reassessment of monitoring capabilities for particles of this type and a review of alternative monitoring techniques.
CORE’s health campaigner Janine Allis-Smith said today;
‘In light of this high dose rate Seascale particle, PHE’s time-wasting monitoring reassessment does nothing to protect beach-users here and now. Its response to these finds is as complacent as the refusal of Copeland Borough Council to erect signs on local beaches is wilfully negligent.
Both bodies appear more pre-occupied with protecting Sellafield’s already tarnished environmental reputation and not ‘rocking the nuclear boat’ than taking pro-active steps to properly protect the public from such risks. With their collective heads buried in the proverbial sands, they can give no guarantee whatsoever that more highly radioactive materials even now remain undetected on our beaches or will get washed up on the next high tide’.