The Dounreay Particles Advisory Group (DPAG) has recommended that UKAEA close off the beach immediately adjacent to its north Scotland nuclear site due to the radioactivity of fuel fragments being found there.

Fuel particles have been found at various offsite locations, including Sandside beach and the Dounreay foreshore. One was detected at a popular tourist beach at Dunnet, several miles east of Dounreay.

The foreshore closure recommendation, which came as part of DPAG’s third report, was accompanied by a decision that monthly monitoring of nearby Sandside public beach should be increased to fortnightly.

DPAG said that most beaches in the vicinity of the plant could remain open to the public because the chances of coming into contact with a fuel fragment there were sufficiently low and the activity of fragments there were smaller, resulting in less health effects.

The pollution was caused by bad waste management practices over many years, which resulted in thousands of shards of irradiated fuel from reprocessing being released to the environment through a variety of routes.

The particles are similar in size to a grain of sand and those being found at the Dounreay foreshore are at the higher end of the particle radioactivity scale.

DPAG noted that there is still a significant bank of fuel fragments on the seabed off Dounreay, mainly in a plume emanating from the subsea effluent diffusion chamber and adjacent to the site.

At the report launch in Thurso, DPAG chairman Keith Boddy reinterpreted the former secretary of state for Scotland’s 1998 direction that all particles finding their way to Sandside beach should be promptly detected and removed. Boddy considered that the approach to particles should be based on the risk entailed.

UKAEA used the launch to highlight plans to undertake trials of remotely operated technology to remove particles from offshore sediment. UKAEA has placed a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union seeking expressions of interest from firms capable of finding and removing the particles from the seabed.