Page last updated at 15:26 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 16:26 UK

Radioactive finds in grazing land

Survey of the field
The finds were made during a survey of the field

A radioactive particle and two shovels worth of radioactive waste have been found in grazing land near a nuclear power site for the first time.

The field next to Dounreay on the Caithness coast has been earmarked for a low-level waste dump.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) said the particle did not present a significant risk.

However, it has requested further investigations of land surrounding the plant, which is being decommissioned.

Dounreay Site Restoration Limited (DSRL), which is leading the demolition project, said livestock had previously grazed in the field.

Its discovery in this location is unexpected
Byron Tilly

Along with the fragment, two shovels worth of radioactive waste were removed.

The finds were made about 300m inland of nearby sea cliffs during a survey being made ahead of construction of the waste store.

Until now, particles have been found on three beaches used by the public, on cliff tops between the site and the foreshore, on the foreshore itself and on the seabed.

The metallic fragments of reprocessed reactor fuel are linked to a rogue historic discharge from the plant.

So far 115 particles have been recovered from the bed of the Pentland Firth - DSRL said 29 were in the higher hazard category defined by independent experts as a "significant" threat to health.

Byron Tilly, Sepa's radioactive substances unit manager, said the fragment found in the field was classified as "minor".

She said: "However, its discovery in this location is unexpected and Sepa has requested that DSRL conduct a thorough investigation into the possible source of the material, and how it came to be in this location.

"Sepa has also asked DSRL to consider the wider implications of its findings with respect to other land bordering the site and coastal strip, and in particular with respect to any requirement for further monitoring.

"Sepa will take account of this work as part of the radioactive contaminated land assessment that the agency is carrying out in respect of fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel in the local Dounreay environment."

DSRL said the finds were made five to 30cm below the surface and covered by vegetation, indicating they had been there for sometime.

Meanwhile, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) has recovered more than 100 fragments of spent fuel from the seabed as part of the clean up and shut down of Dounreay.

The ROV scanned an area equivalent in size to more than 10 football pitches.

DSRL said a further 16 suspected fragments detected also gave readings in the "significant" risk to health category, but were not retrieved.

Six could not be targeted accurately for retrieval and 10 were buried deeper in the sediment than the 45cm reach of the ROV's recovery system.

Construction is expected to begin next year in the field on the largest storage and treatment plant ever to be built in Scotland to deal with radioactive waste.

The facilities, costing a combined total of more than £300m, were approved by Highland Council and forwarded to the Scottish Government for consideration.

Ministers decided not to call in the planning applications.

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