Copeland Council may well be thrilled by the Quality Coast Awards to 4 of its beaches and celebrate with nice new shiny beach safety and Tourist Information Boards. These sentiments are shared neither by CORE nor by a father in a recent custody battle who claimed his son was being put at risk by visiting these West Cumbrian beaches contaminated by radioactive particles from Sellafield.(Whitehaven News 28.6.12).
Although the signs show visitors the usual water safety code, there is no mention of the insidious and unavoidable risk of encountering a radioactive particle in the sand. This omission is compounded by the Environment Agency’s announcement to the West Cumbria Sites Stakeholder group meeting on the 2nd February this year that, for reasons unknown, areas of beach already cleared have been repopulated by radioactive particles in a matter of days. The meeting was told by CORE that ‘In terms of the public going onto the beach and being told that while we remove umpteen thousand particles and pebbles, they should really take that with a pinch of salt because they are continuously returning’.
Adding to these attempts to down play the radioactive state of the beaches, the official monitoring of the coast has been deliberately abandoned – at the specific request of some local authorities – during the peak periods of school and public Bank Holidays for fear of alarming the tourists.
The Government Health Protection investigation* shows that on the beaches investigated, young children (0-5) are the category most at risk from encountering a radioactive object by being at leisure or walking. These risks include inhalation, ingestion, direct contact with the skin, objects getting trapped under fingernails, toenails and in shoes, or adhering to clothes. They recommended that an investigation should be carried out on the increases in the number of alpha-rich radioactive objects being found by the recently-introduced Groundhog Synergy beach monitoring system. HPA advice as to signs and public access to beaches is being kept under review.
CORE campaigner Janine Allis-Smith said: “it is totally unacceptable that while at Dounreay and Dalgety Bay the contaminated coastline is either closed to the public or has proper warning signs, here in Cumbria we are hoodwinked into believing our beaches are totally clean and safe, based purely on water quality tests which do not include testing the beach for radiation. People, especially those with small children. should be told about the particle finds so they can make up their own mind whether to go on the beach or not -it is not up to local authorities to decide for them or omit the facts in order to attract tourists”.
*Supporting Information for the Assessment of the Health Risks from Radioactive Objects on Beaches in the Vicinity of the Sellafield site (HPA-CRCE-018 (supplement)