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Sellafield Pipes Cause For Concern 5 January 2004

The Department of Local Government and the Environment (“the Department”) has confirmed that, whilst no risk to public health from contamination has been found on the plastic pipes washed ashore recently, it is continuing to monitor the situation closely for any potential hazards arising from Sellafield activities.

In total, six pieces of plastic pipe belonging to British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) have now been recovered from Isle of Man beaches over the period between the 9th and14th December. The yellow plastic pipes are about two-and-a-half metres long with a diameter of 22cm and have been cut length-wise into half sections, so that they resemble large-scale guttering. The pipes were lost at sea during operations to dismantle a plastic pipeline, previously used by BNFL to channel rainwater from the Sellafield site into the Irish Sea.

The plastic pipes were collected by the Isle of Man Coastguard and checked for radioactive contamination by Isle of Man Government scientists. One piece of pipe had a detectable patch of contamination about the size of a footprint at one end. However, although the radiation was detectable, it presented no hazard to anyone touching the pipe. The other five sections of pipe had no detectable radioactive contamination.

Following recent media reports questioning the significance of finding these pipes on local beaches, Mrs Anne Craine MHK, of the Department of Local Government and the Environment gave her assessment of the incident:

"It is certainly a cause for concern that any object from Sellafield can be found on our beaches-whether it is harmless or not. The scientists in the Government Analyst’s Laboratory checked these pipes for contamination and told BNFL that one section of pipe had a trace of radioactivity on one end. Could we have trusted BNFL or the UK Authorities to have told us that fact? Fortunately the Department’s staff were able to check these pipes as soon as they were found and establish very swiftly that there was no health risk to the public…but I do find this incident disturbing."

Mrs Craine continued:

"This Department has been given the responsibility to monitor BNFL's operations at Sellafield and we take that responsibility very seriously indeed. That is why the Department’s scientific staff at the Government Analyst’s Laboratory have the ability to respond quickly and effectively to these incidents. The finding of any contaminated objects on beaches will continue to be openly reported by the Department. We are not going to assist BNFL in covering up their mistakes."

"The lesson to be learned from this incident is that we must stay alert to potential hazards from Sellafield. Mistakes and accidents can happen while BNFL dismantle these redundant nuclear plants and pipelines. We don’t want anything from Sellafield turning up on our beaches and it is BNFL’s responsibility to carry out this work in a safe manner. I shall be asking BNFL what action they will be taking to improve their methods for removing these redundant pipelines."

The Department is presently waiting to receive a detailed assessment by the UK Environment Agency, of the cause of the detectable contamination on one piece of plastic pipe found at Groudle Beach. It can then decide whether or not it is satisfied with their explanation and what further assurances it requires from the UK authorities.

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