Nuclear anomaly remains a mystery

Fears that there had been a nuclear spill at the Dounreay nuclear plant may be a false alarm, according to an update from the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA).

In late June, ten workers at the plant began monitoring for potential plutonium contamination after a recording abnormally high levels of radiation in a drain at the Dounreay nuclear plant.

UKAEA now says the team volunteered to get tested as some were not wearing protective gear and there were fears at the time they may have breathed or swallowed noxious substances.

A spokesperson from the UKAEA told edie: “[Our team] took more samples from the manhole and checked it further…Initially, it was an anomalous result and measures were taken simply to protect staff. The project team reacted and followed the necessary procedures.”

Initial samples from the area gave rise to concern because analysis indicated a higher level of plutonium, a UKAEA statement said.

Further analysis at the manhole did not show any ‘significant amounts of plutonium to be present, however some alpha/beta radioactivity was found, which is to be expected,’ the statement continued.

Work is said to be underway to analyse the initial high result.

Phil Cartwright, UKAEA project manager of land remediation and project particles said to Edie: “We will always find low traces because of the nature of the site. The samples are now being considered.”

He also said that UKAEA has no evidence that there is any environmental impact on surrounding areas.

“We have discharge authorisation from SEPA (the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) but it’s capped and has minimum effect on the environment,” said Cartwright. “Liquid discharge goes out through the pipeline into the Pentland Firth.”

As part of the decommissioning of Dounreay, the ground at the nuclear plant site was examined last month ahead of a full-scale clean-up, costing £4 million.

UKAEA says it will continue to take further samples and monitor workers.

Dana Gornitzki

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