Sellafield technetium contamination spreads

Norwegian concern as radioactivity found off Sweden, Denmark, in seaweed, shrimp

Radioactive contamination thought to come from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in England has been found in new sea areas around Scandinavia and has been detected in seaweed and shrimp as well as seawater, new data have shown.

Technetium-99 has been released by Sellafield in significant quantities since 1994. Last month, it was detected in seawater off Norway's west coast for the first time (ENDS Daily 19 December 1997). Now it has been found in the Skagerrak, between Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and also in the fjord running up to Oslo.

Jesper Simonsen, secretary of state in the Norwegian environment ministry, told the national newspaper Aftenposten yesterday: "When we protested against increased releases of technetium from Sellafield three years ago, the British replied that this activity would have no significance whatsoever for Norway. Now we have clear documentation that the opposite is the case."

Norway's Radiation Protection Authority (Statens Strålevern) confirmed today that measurements in December found technetium in seaweed at 175 Becquerels (Bq) per kilo as against 35Bq at the same time last year, and "minute" values (2Bq/kg) in shrimp. The findings have sparked a minor media furore in Sweden as well as Norway, although scientists in both countries insist there is no danger to the public.

Senior scientist with the authority, Anne-Liv Rudjord, told ENDS Daily today: "The data will be part of a report to the environment ministry which we expect to finish at the end of the month or early in February. There is nothing surprising about this, and no danger to the public."

Previously, her colleague, Per Strand, had told Aftenposten: "This is only the beginning of an increasing 'trickle' from Sellafield. We see a clear connection here with the fact that the installation was permitted to increase radioactive emissions twenty-fold in 1994.

"In the years to come, radiation levels in Norwegian coastal waters will probably approach 1,000Bq per kilo in [seaweed]. We also have to reckon with increasing radioactivity in shrimp, lobster, crab and mussels." But he said there was "no reason to warn the public against eating fish and shellfish".

Dr Leif Moberg of the Swedish Radiation Protection Institute told ENDS Daily: "We are not taking any measurements ourselves, and we do not consider this radiation a problem."

Follow Up:
Norwegian environment ministry, tel: +47 22 24 90 90; Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, tel: +47 67 16 25 00; Swedish Radiation Protection Institute, tel: +46 8 729 7100.

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