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Contamination from Sellafield

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(November 3, 1989) A September 1989 report by Friends of the Earth's (FoE) Radiation Monitoring Unit contains the results of a survey of radioactive contamination along the River Esk near British Nuclear Fuels' Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria, UK.

(320.3215) WISE Stockholm - The estuary of the River Esk is situated five miles south of the Sellafield site. Radiation levels found on the banks of the Esk and on the low-lying land appear to be independent of distance upriver and instead a function of flooding. Suspended radioactive particles in the water are deposited on land every time there is a particularly high tide or storm.

The report shows that banks of the four mile tidal stretch of the River Esk and adjacent low-lying land are extensively contaminated with many different radionuclides including ruthenium, cesium, americium and plutonium. In places, radioactive contamination is up to 13 times the National Radiological Protection Board's (NRPB) recommended limits for environmental contamination and up to 50 times the level at which the NRPB recommend that public exposure to radiation should be investigated. The source of this contamination is the reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

These findings are released at a time when radioactive contamination from Sellafield, above the NRPb's recommended limits, has also been recently found along the North Wales and South West Scotland coastlines. The report highlights the inadequacy of the official monitoring program and criticizes the failure of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to alert the public to the presence of the contamination.

Patrick Green, FoE's Radiation Consultant said: "Our results are clearly not localized hot spots. Three recent, separate and independent findings of contamination in estuaries of England, Scotland and Wales over the limits is extremely worrying. One is entitled to ask whether similar hot spots remain undiscovered. Quite clearly the official monitoring agencies have failed to alert the public to these areas of contamination. This lack of action is totally unacceptable. These results demand urgent investigation as the public could be at risk."


  • FoE UK (via GreenNet, Topic 59, gn.nuclear, 6 Oct. 1989.) The September 1989 FoE report, by P. Watts and P. Green, is titled "Unacceptable Levels: A Report by the Friends of the Earth's Radiation Monitoring Unit of the Sellafield Contamination of the River Esk, Cumbria, UK"
  • See also two reports by the Scottish Universities Research and Reactor Center 1) "Aerial Radiometric Survey of Parts of North Wales", July 1989, by Sanderson, East & Scott; 2) "An Assessment of Artificial Radionuclide Transfer from Sellafield to South West Scotland", (Ref: DOE/RW/89/127).

Contact: FoE, 2628 Underwood St., London N1 7QJ, UK
Paul Watts, Coordinator, Radiation Monitoring Unit, tel: 01—490 0224 (work), 01—267 9994 (home)
Patrick Green, FoE Radiation Consultant, tel: 01-328 3837 (home).