Plutonium dumped off Channel Islands

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Investigations by the Jersey authorities have revealed that thousands of drums of nuclear waste dumped in the sea just north of the Channel Islands contained plutonium, contrary to claims made by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.

A report published in Jersey yesterday says there is no immediate health risk to Channel islanders but reveals that the British government has been asked to undertake regular monitoring of the area. The issue is likely to be raised in discussions with the Home Office next week.

More than 58,000 drums filled with nuclear waste from sites such as Harwell and Aldermaston were dumped 10 miles north of Alderney between 1950 and 1963 in an area known as the Hurd Deep.

The UK authorities had claimed that all the drums imploded as they sank, dispersing their contents, but the Jersey investigations have revealed that more than 2,900 drums were sealed in concrete and still lie 150 metres beneath the surface.

The new evidence was discovered by the island's environmental adviser, Dr Mike Romerill, while searching through files held at the UKAEA headquarters at Harwell and the Public Records Office at Kew.

"Some drums disposed of in 1951 contained plutonium/polonium-contaminated laboratory waste, probably from Aldermaston," said Dr Romerill. "While such disposal was permissible at the time, such plutonium-contaminated waste would no longer be considered as "low level'" and would be disposed of deep underground."

That the UK authorities gave contradictory information about the waste dumped in the Hurd Deep has been confirmed by Sir John Knill, the former chairman of the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee, who assisted Dr Romerill in his investigation.

"A visit to the Public Records Office confirmed the presence of plutonium- contaminated wastes which would not, at the present day, be regarded as "low level waste," said Sir John. "This is contrary to the explicit oral statement we received at the UKAEA in July 1996 to the effect that "no material disposed of would, under the current regulations, be considered to be intermediate level waste."