RWMAC advises on particles

29 April 1999

The UK’s Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee has issued advice on what to do about radioactive particles found near the UK Atomic Energy Authority site at Dounreay in northern Scotland. 380 metallic particles have been found in and around the site, including in offshore sediments, in the last 20 years.

The report’s main conclusions are that the particles are a result of historic operations and are no longer being produced; there may be a “substantial” cache of particles in offshore sediments, some of which are carried to the shore; and the sediments are being ‘drip fed’ particles from two possible sources.

The most probable source is a ‘diffusion chamber’ located below the sea bed at the end of a liquid waste discharge pipeline, which was almost certainly used in the 1960s to discharge particle contaminated effluent from treating spent fuel. A less likely source is the Intermediated Level Waste Disposal shaft through which particles were routinely discharged up until 1968.

RWMAC recommends the diffuser is studied to assess whether particles are still being released, but emphasises that the priority of any work must be protection of the public; disturbance of offshore sediments should therefore be avoided. It also recommends greater emphasis on monitoring public beaches in the area.

The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) issued a report on public health issues on the same day. It concluded that the presence of radioactive particles poses a very real danger to public health, but they “do not provide a realistic explanation for the increased incidence of leukemia in young people in the Dounreay area”.

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