Radiation fears bring pigeon ban at Sellafield

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The Independent Online
THE Government has issued an unprecedented ban on handling or eating pigeons found within 10 miles of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant because of fears that they are radioactive. The notice has been issued by the Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, after batches of more than 150 culled local pigeons were found to have high levels of radiation contamination.

The Independent revealed last week that the birds had been tested by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) scientists after suspicions by an inspector from the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals.

The inspector had earlier been called to a bird sanctuary in the nearby village of Seascale in Cumbria to carry out a cull of 150 pigeons after the sanctuary's flock of some 700 birds became the subject of complaints from local residents.

The dead birds were analysed in a series of batches and were found to be highly contaminated.

BNFL staff are now planning to dig up the garden at the Singing Surf bird sanctuary, owned by sisters Jane and Barrie Robinson, and take the topsoil to a nearby nuclear waste dump.

BNFL is also planning either to "power-wash" or dig up the tarmac driveway at Singing Surf, in order to remove further traces of radiation.

Since the first cull, BNFL officials have culled a further 200 birds and the remaining pigeons at Singing Surf may also have to be captured and destroyed. MAFF continues to carry out its own independent tests into how the birds became contaminated. Government officials are also seeking to minimise the risk that the radioactive pigeons pose to the public. In its notice, MAFF states: "As a precaution, local residents are being advised not to handle, slaughter or consume any pigeons found within a 10-mile radius of the site. Advice from ornithologists indicates that feral pigeons are highly territorial and are unlikely to stray beyond the 10-mile area."

The sisters say their pigeon flock is a mixture of feral and racing birds. They believe some of the pigeons may have roosted in the Sellafield buildings, some of which are easily accessed by pigeons and gulls.

However, they also claim the local atmosphere is heavily polluted by the nuclear reprocessing plant, exposing the pigeons as well as the human population to radiation.

BNFL said pigeons found at the Sellafield site were being culled. A spokesman said: "We are also surveying the areas on site where they might gather so that nooks and crannies can be blocked off to prevent them coming back to roost."

MAFF inspectors have been touring the area around Sellafield to ensure no traders are offering pigeon meat for sale. "Feral pigeons are unlikely to enter the food chain," said a spokesperson. "MAFF has been monitoring contamination levels in foodstuffs produced around Sellafield, and other nuclear sites, for 10 years. This has confirmed that other foodstuffs produced within this designated area are safe to eat."