Environment Agency undertakes study on the transfer of radioactive materials following scare

The Environment Agency, (EA), has announced that it has begun studying potentially unusual pathways for transferring radioactive contamination from nuclear sites, following an incident where pigeons were exposed to radiation, which subsequently came into contact with humans.


Environment Agency undertakes study on the transfer of radioactive materials following scare

The Environment Agency, (EA), has announced that it has begun studying potentially unusual pathways for transferring radioactive contamination from nuclear sites, following an incident where pigeons were exposed to radiation, which subsequently came into contact with humans.

The study is as a result of a 1998 discovery that people working at a bird sanctuary in Northwest England had been exposed to radioactive contamination from feral pigeons which had themselves been in contact with radioactive materials at Sellafield nuclear plant, an EA spokesperson told edie on 1 August. “It was a highly unexpected occurrence, and we want to ensure that nothing else unexpected is able to arise,” he said.

A report into the incident recommended that nuclear site operators review their specific operations and the characteristics of their sites to identify ‘any mechanisms that may have the potential to lead to the transfer of radioactive contamination to the environment’. The report said that pigeons had become contaminated after entering buildings containing radioactive materials, which according to an EA spokesperson was via broken panels in the roof.

As a result, a questionnaire is being sent out to nuclear installations, government departments and agencies, local authorities, nuclear industry representative groups and non-governmental organisations by the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive asking them to identify other potential unusual pathways, or those which may have been already encountered and not reported to the EA. Reviews carried out by nuclear site operators will also contribute toward this work, which is expected to be completed by November, in time for a year-end report. The possible scenarios will also be tested by the EA.

“In undertaking this exercise the Agency is not implying nuclear site operators have lost control of the management of radioactive materials”, Head of the Environment Agency’s Radioactive Substances Division, Jim Gray, said. “However, the Environment Agency wants to look at all the possible paths by which radioactive contamination could be transferred from a nuclear installation. To this end consideration will be given to identifying and monitoring all possible unconventional pathways that have the potential to lead to the transfer of radioactive contamination to the environment.”

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