BNFL has described as “scaremongering” Greenpeace claims that the area around the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria, north west England, is more contaminated than the 30 km exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Greenpeace claimed that soil samples from within the Chernobyl exclusion zone had levels of Americium 241 400 times lower than than in sediment samples from the River Esk, 11.5 kilometres from the Sellafield site. Other samples showed higher levels of Cobalt 60 around Sellafield and comparable levels of Ceasium 137. The Greenpeace samples were analysed by scientists at the University of Bremen and the Hamburg Environmental Office in Germany.
BNFL points out that the Chernobyl samples were taken south of the power plant, but the wind blew most of the radioactive cloud in a northerly direction. BNFL also argue Greenpeace are not comparing like with like. “One would not expect to find significant americium contamination after a nuclear reactor accident,” says a BNFL statement. “Sellafield’s main activities are reprocessing and waste management, so higher levels of americium would not be unexpected.” BNFL also points out that the mud flats where Greenpeace took its samples contain historic contamination which has built up over the 40 years, and that radioactive discharges to the sea are 100 times lower today than they were in the early 1970s. “The levels are carefully monitored by BNFL and our regulators, and the health implications to the most affected people in the area are studied,” says the statement. “The maximum dose to this critical group from Sellafield’s discharges is only a few percent of that received naturally from living in the area.” A spokesperson for the Environment Agency, which monitors discharges from Sellafield, said that the levels cited by Greenpeace did not pose an unacceptable risk and that discharges from Sellafield were in line with safety limits.
“Drawing conclusions from a Chernobyl Sellafield comparison is not realistic,” said the EA. Geenpeace did not specify how deep in the sediments the samples were taken, the radioactivity could be historical.”