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Fears Dounreay hot spots have spread


By Iain Grant

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Shetland Islands Council is concerned about the performance of the remote-control device used to detect and recover the off-site pollution.
Shetland Islands Council is concerned about the performance of the remote-control device used to detect and recover the off-site pollution.

DOUBT is being cast on the adequacy of the operation to recover rogue radioactive hot spots on the seabed off Dounreay.

Shetland Islands Council is concerned about the performance of the remote-control device used to detect and recover the off-site pollution. It also fears the pollution may have spread outwith the area which has been subject to monitoring.

The authority is further unhappy the current strategy will not return the seabed to the “pristine” state demanded by Scotland’s anti-pollution agency in 1998.

The council claims the end state for Dounreay can be fixed only when agreement is reached on the extent of the recovery work.

Dounreay’s site licence company, DSRL, maintained good progress is being made with its multi-million-pound clean-up and said it was impossible to recover all the pollution.

SIC’s disquiet is raised in a letter from its environmental liaison officer, John Mouat, to Dounreay Stakeholder Group.

Mr Mouat said SIC had long-standing concerns about the historic large-scale release of particles from the site and the associated risks – both real and potential – to the environment, human health and the North economy.

He states: “There has to be concerns over the unknown location of the vast majority of the particles, which may have spread over a very wide area. Recovery work has only taken place where monitoring of the seabed, foreshore or beaches has been carried out around the north coast of Caithness and close to Dounreay in particular.”

While acknowledging the effort and expense involved in the current clean-up drive, Mr Mouat said there is still a troubling lack of knowledge about where most of the pollution has ended up.

SIC has consistently called for the recovery of all the seabed particles, regardless of their activity.

This conflicts with site contractor DSRL’s bid to focus on recovering the high-active fuel fragments which pose a significant health hazard.

Mr Mouat said SIC notes in its latest report, the Particles Retrieval Advisory Group is critical of the efficiency of the monitoring and recovery of seabed particles.

This summer’s “trawl”, carried out by a Merseyside-based contractor, unearthed 351 particles, 38 of which were classed as high-hazard.

Mr Mouat said: “Despite many years of analysis and surveying, there remains a lack of certainty regarding the number, location and movement of particles. The comments by the advisory group are especially disappointing given the reassurances DSG had received over the apparent efficiency of the recovery work.”

Mr Mouat said the issue needs to be addressed in the site’s decommissioning programme.

He said: “We believe no final end state can be fixed until stakeholders have agreed what they are prepared to accept as the limit of recovery work and whether long-term monitoring is required.”

PRAG concludes a complete clean-up is no longer feasible.

DSRL spokesman Colin Punler said its programme is based on a model the independent group produced three years ago.

This projected a total of 5000 to 6000 particles, of which 1300 were high-hazard. The summer operations have since been focused on the 60-hectare tract of seabed where the high-active particles are believed to be.

Mr Punler said: “The number of significant particles we have recovered is fewer than we would expect based on the PRAG model.

“But it doesn’t follow that this is necessarily down to the efficiency of the operation. That could be a factor but equally it could be that there are not as many there as has been projected.”

Mr Punler said DSRL is satisfied with the performance of its contractors, Land and Marine.

He said it is accepted some particles may have spread beyond the area which has been monitored.

“It’s recognised some may have been carried into deeper water but, again, all the evidence points to the significant particles having ended up in the 60-hectare area we’re concentrating on.”

DSRL, he said, has consistently made clear a complete clearance is unattainable.

“It’s unrealistic to think every particle of every size ever released will be recovered as it will never be known how many were released in the first place.”

Mr Punler agreed the end state for Dounreay cannot be fixed until consensus is reached in what state the seabed can be left.

He said: “That is ultimately for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to decide upon.”


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