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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK


Cambridge accused of radiation breach

Cambridge University is being prosecuted for 'losing' a radioactive substance and failing to ensure that four people in its Biochemistry Department had proper training.

The prosecution follows an investigation into the loss of phosphorus-32, which Cambridge notified to the authorities on 18 March.

Having looked into the circumstances, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency are jointly prosecuting the university for allegedly failing to ensure safe systems for the delivery and storage of radioactive sources.

Phosphorus-32 is a radionuclide used for pharmaceutical purposes, such as in the treatment of certain tumours.

The HSE says 9.25 megabequerels of radiation was released - about 460 times the average amount of radioactive radon occurring naturally per cubic metre in houses in the UK.

There would have been no risk to the public, in that phosphorus-32's radioactive range in air is about six metres.

Court appearance

But it is alleged that the university failed to ensure that four employees - Peter Williams, John Benton, Barry Green and Gordon Warren - had received information and training to enable them to conduct radiation work.

It is also alleged that the university failed to keep proper records of the quantity and location of radioactive materials within the Biochemistry Department.

The Environment Agency separately alleges that the loss of radioactive source broke the university's registration certificate for handling such material.

The university has been summonsed to appear before Cambridge Magistrates' Court on 21 June.

The Secretary General of Cambridge University, Dr David Livesey, said: "Although the risk is incredibly small, the university views the incident seriously and the appropriate reviews of systems, procedures and disciplinary matters have been instituted.

"This was an isolated lapse, due to human error, in hitherto effective safety procedures for the secure management of radioactive material."

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