Dounreay N-particle cache remains hidden

Nuclear waste advisor warns of “substantial” numbers of undiscovered radioactive particles

A reservoir of radioactive particles is likely to exist somewhere in marine sediments close to the Dounreay nuclear site on the north coast of Scotland, according to a review carried out by the UK’s nuclear waste advisory body and published yesterday. The total number of undiscovered particles could be "substantial" but "no ongoing activities at the site could lead to their generation," the review says. An earlier report had suggested that a "cache" of particles could be located on cliffs above the site and that erosion was causing them to be distributed onto the shore below. The material was assumed to have escaped from a radioactive waste disposal shaft which was exposed by an explosion in 1977. Yesterday’s report dismisses this possibility, but reveals that over 300 particles have been discovered near the site since 1984. It also raises the additional possibility that they are being "drip-fed" from the site into the environment, either from the waste shaft or from a chamber in a liquid waste disposal pipeline under the seabed. "Inferred and anecdotal evidence" makes it "almost certain" that the pipeline was used to dispose of particle-contaminated waste until the late 1960s, the review says. It calls for an investigation of both these possibilities and for better coastal monitoring procedures.

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