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Sellafield nuclear site has elevated levels of radioactivity

 
Sellafield Nuclear Power Plant, U.K.

A view of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site near Seascale in Cumbria. Photograph: David Moir/Reuters

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Sellafield nuclear site has elevated levels of radioactivity” was written by Adam Vaughan, Leila Haddou and Rob Edwards, for theguardian.com on Friday 31st January 2014 11.00 UTC

The Sellafield nuclear site is being operated with a reduced number of staff following the detection overnight of elevated levels of radioactivity.

Non-essential staff are being told not to come to work, although this is described as a precautionary measure, and in a statement the site’s operator said there was “no risk to the general public or workforce”. It is unclear how long the plant will operate with reduced staffing but a few hundred workers are understood to be on the site.

The statement from Sellafield Ltd stated: “As a result of a conservative and prudent decision, the Sellafield site is operating normally but with reduced manning levels today. This follows the detection of elevated levels of radioactivity at one of the on-site radiation monitors at the north end of the site. Essential workers only are being asked to report for work.

“Levels of radioactivity detected are above naturally occurring radiation but well below that which would call for any actions to be taken by the workforce on or off the site. The site is at normal status and employees and operational plants are continuing to operate as investigations continue. All our facilities have positively confirmed there are no abnormal conditions and are operating normally.

“We have taken this decision to focus on investigation and avoid disruption on and off the site (such as traffic disruption in the west Cumbria region).”

“If this had happened during the working day we would just allow people to go home as normal. There is no risk to the general public or workforce.”

The government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, said: “We are satisfied that Sellafield continues to take appropriate action in response to the enhanced activity levels. The levels are not increasing and we are satisfied that Sellafield is making progress with determining the source of the activity. We expect to have further information around midday.”

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) confirmed the elevated radioactivity but said they were “well below levels of concern”. The plant was still operating and not offline, she said, but all non-essential staff had been asked to leave the site.

Gary Smith, the national secretary for energy at the GMB union, said the majority of Sellafield’s workforce had been told not to turn up for work on Friday morning. The site employs more than 10,000 people.

The unusual radiation reading at the perimeter fence had been detected at 2am, he said. But his members at Sellafield told him that they were not aware of any problems at any of the 1,000 nuclear facilities on the site. “There’s a possibility that this is a faulty air sampler,” he said.

Gill Wood, the national secretary of another union that represents 5,000 Sellafield staff, Prospect, said: “Non-essential staff have been advised to stay at home today while the relevant specialist team investigates. The company’s decision to partially close some areas at the site is a precautionary and measured decision and a safety measure that is recognised worldwide.”

A local newspaper, News and Star, reported that around 8,000 workers were affected. A Decc spokeswoman was unable to confirm that figure.

Richard Wakeford, professor of epidemiology at the University of Manchester, said that asking non-essential workers to stay home was “a prudent precaution until the cause is known and the situation rectified”.

He added: “There are no operating nuclear reactors at Sellafield, so short-lived radionuclides such as iodine-131 are not present there to any significant extent – therefore no stable iodine tablets should be taken as there is no need.

“If long-lived radionuclides, such as caesium-137, are responsible, then it will be important to find out what they are so that their source can be identified.”

The local anti-nuclear group, Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (Core), said Sellafield was putting out “mixed messages” about the radiation that were “doing little to instil public confidence”.

The group claimed that if there were elevated levels of radioactivity at the perimeter fence, there were probably high levels outside the site.

 

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