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Agency slams Dounreay over radioactive leak

By David G Scott

A RADIOACTIVE emission at Dounreay in February "contravened multiple conditions" of its radioactive substances authorisation, it has emerged.

The Scottish Environment Protection Authority (Sepa) made the announcement after an investigation of the incident in which radioactive dust vented out following the failure of a valve during a test.

A spokesperson for Sepa said: “In February 2019, Dounreay Site Restoration Limited [DSRL] informed Sepa of a contamination incident which occurred in a facility on the Dounreay site.

"The cause of the contamination incident was a valve operational failure during the testing of a ventilation system, which resulted in disturbance of radioactively contaminated dust within the ventilation system and subsequent discharge into the facility and through a gaseous discharge stack to the atmosphere."

The Dounreay facility was investigated by an environmental agency over radioactive gas that was leaked. Picture: DSRL / NDA
The Dounreay facility was investigated by an environmental agency over radioactive gas that was leaked. Picture: DSRL / NDA

The spokesperson went on to say that the increased discharge of radioactivity to the environment was "calculated to be less than one per cent" of the relevant authorised gaseous discharge limit and therefore there was "no breach of discharge limits".

However, although the environmental impact of the discharge was considered to be very low, Sepa’s investigation concluded that DSRL "contravened multiple conditions of its Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations [EASR] radioactive substances authorisation".

Sepa’s Stewart Ballantine, who is assigned to the site, thinks that the air filters being used were past their sell-by date and needed improvement.

He said: “Sepa is now considering the wider compliance implications of these failings.”

A DSRL spokeswoman said: “A regulatory notice has been received from Sepa following its investigation into an event from February in one of our facilities. While we welcome Sepa’s assessment that there was no breach of discharge limits and environmental impact is considered very low, we take such events seriously.”

She went on to say that "environmental compliance is a high priority" for DSRL and "good progress" is being made against an action plan developed in response.

DSRL has been issued with a regulatory notice that outlines the steps it is required to take to address the breaches before October 2020.

The Sepa report states that the facility contravened EASR authorisation conditions relating to maintaining and checking effectiveness of facilities and equipment; using best practicable means to minimise discharge of radioactive waste and to minimise public exposure and environmental impact; informing SEPA of contraventions; taking samples and measurements; training; management arrangements and written procedures.

DSRL has committed to SEPA that it will enhance some of its "ageing environmental assets", including ventilation systems and drain discharge networks, over the next two years.

Apart from this incident, there was another low-level leak on June 7 when an area of the site was evacuated. An employee at Dounreay detected low levels of radioactive contamination during routine personal monitoring while exiting a controlled area.

Between February and May this year, two radioactive particles were recovered from the foreshore at Dounreay and a further two were detected at Sandside beach.

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