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28 June 2004

COMARE Statement on the radioactive particles found in the local coastal environment resulting from operations at the UKAEA site at Dounreay


The latest statement from COMARE gives details of further recommendations on monitoring for particles both on beaches and offshore. These recommendations were formulated following the publication of the second report of the Dounreay Particles Advisory Group (DPAG), the continuing appraisal of the particles being found on the Sandside Bay beach where public access is unrestricted and ongoing research.


COMARE were asked by the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider and advise on the incidence of leukaemia and related issues around the Dounreay Nuclear establishment in 1986.

COMARE published its original advice and recommendations on the possible increased risk of leukaemia in young people near the Dounreay site in its Second report in 1988. As part of the continuing investigation by COMARE, documentation was provided by Her Majesty's Industrial Pollution Inspectorate (HMIPI) on the occurrence of radioactive particles on the Dounreay foreshore and the public beach at Sandside Bay. The UKAEA informed COMARE that the particles were the result of an accidental spillage in 1965. A Working Group was appointed by COMARE to investigate this issue. The Working Group visited the Dounreay site in 1994 where other potential sources of particulate contamination were identified. These sources included the Intermediate Level Waste Shaft (ILW) which is located close to the Dounreay foreshore on the edge of the UKAEA site.

A joint report on the potential health effects and possible sources of the particles was published with the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee (RWMAC) in 1995.

Further investigations by the Dounreay Working Group following publication of the joint report resulted in the publication, in 1999, of COMARE's Sixth Report that reconsidered the health implications and possible source of the particles.

The Dounreay Working Group visited the UKAEA Dounreay site in October 2001 and were advised that the numbers of particles found to date would indicate that there was a reservoir in the offshore sediments. UKAEA also agreed that there was a need to eliminate other possible sources such as the inactive site drains, the discharge pipe and diffuser, and the ILW shaft.

Following the visit recommendations were published on COMARE's website in May 2002. These recommendations concentrated on monitoring and on studies to define the source of the particles.

Current information

Monitoring of the beaches from Melvich to Thurso has been undertaken by UKAEA. Currently the monitoring is concentrated in seven areas, Melvich, Sandside, Dounreay foreshore, Cross Kirk, Brimms Ness, Scrabster and Thurso. To date, particles have only been found in two areas: the Dounreay foreshore and the beach at Sandside Bay. Particles have also been found in the off-shore areas out from the Dounreay foreshore and Sandside Bay. The off-shore particles have been identified using both diver and towed instrument surveys. Divers have also been used to survey water uprisings from the seafloor in the areas off the Dounreay foreshore.

Monitoring of the beach at Sandside Bay in 2003 resulted in the discovery of increased numbers of particles. In this statement COMARE notes that the characteristics of the particles from 2003 are consistent with those found on Sandside beach in previous years although the overall average radioactivity concentration is lower. The increase in particle finds is consistent with the numbers expected using the improved monitoring techniques now in place, but other factors may also have affected the quantity found and consistent continual monitoring is advised. Further offshore surveys are also recommended.

The Committee also recognises that preliminary results from the ongoing studies to identify the health risks from the particles show that radiation doses may be less than those originally estimated in COMARE’s Sixth report.

Further information can be obtained from Professor Alex Elliott, Chairman of the COMARE Dounreay Working Group, by telephoning: 0141 211 2948.

The full statement on the Dounreay particles can be viewed at:

COMARE Statement on the radioactive particles found in the local coastal environment resulting from operations at the Dounreay facility




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