Claws and the law: How safe is our seafood if Thorp gets the go-ahead? asks Nicholas Schoon

This Friday, in the High Court, Mr Justice Potts will make a judgment that could make or break British Nuclear Fuels' Thorp plant on the Cumbrian coast. Lobsters are on his mind.

It turns out that the people most at risk from Thorp's radioactive emissions are the serial lobster-eaters of Lancashire and Cumbria. Consuming the kings of crustacea from that corner of the Irish Sea may, it has been argued, take you over the official annual safety limit once the pounds 2.8bn nuclear reprocessing plant goes into operation.

Some of the slightly radioactive local lobsters may even be eaten by senior politicians and trade unionists after a hard day at conference in Blackpool. But it seems unlikely they could devour enough in a few days to take them beyond the safety limit. The lobster question occupied a substantial chunk of eight and a half days of weighty and expensive legal argument before the judge in the High Court earlier this month.

The occasion: the judicial review hearing into last December's decision by John Gummer, the Environment Secretary, and Gillian Shephard, Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister, to authorise radioactive emissions from Thorp into the air and the Irish Sea. Greenpeace and Lancashire County Council's barristers requested the judge to tell the ministers that they should have held a public inquiry before making a decision.

Lobsters accumulate technetium 99 in their tissues. This is an obscure radioactive element, unknown in nature, that will be produced in small quantities by operations at British Nuclear Fuels' Thorp plant at Sellafield, Cumbria, along with other radionuclides.

The Government had argued that the 'critical group' - those deemed most at risk from Thorp's radioactive emissions - were fishermen, bait diggers and their families, who ate large quantities of seafood. The radioactivity would accumulate in seabed sediments and the crustacea, molluscs and fish living on and above them.

According to Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) scientists, those seafood eaters would receive a maximum dose of 0.214 milliSieverts (mSv) per year attributable to all of British Nuclear Fuels' operations at Sellafield, including Thorp. The maximum dose limit allowed for the general public due to any one nuclear site is 0.5mSv. So, no problem. If the group reckoned to be receiving the biggest Thorp dose outside the plant was safe, then so was the rest of the public.

But Lancashire County Council maintained that government scientists could have underestimated the dose of radioactivity. Its barrister, Nicholas Blake, said MAFF's scientists had assumed a maximum annual lobster consumption in the critical group's diet of 2kg a year - about three sizeable crustacea. Once Thorp is operational, each kilogram of lobster will contain about 0.015mSv.

If substantially more lobsters were eaten, their radioactive content combined with that from other local seafood could readily take an individual's dose above the limit, the council feared. Mr Blake explained that Lancashire had carried out its own survey of 39 people at the fishing port of Fleetwood just before Christmas. This found 16 lobster-eaters who claimed to eat anything between 2kg and 24kg a year - almost one a week.

Outside the court, however, there was some scepticism. Bill Madine, a fisherman from the port of Whitehaven, near Thorp, said lobsters were a special treat, and those caught were sold. 'Fishermen can't afford to eat them . . . I've had about five in my lifetime.' They fetch about pounds 4 per lb.

Bill Scott, who serves them at his River House restaurant at Skippool near Blackpool for pounds 25 (including vegetables and VAT) shrugged off the threat. 'The emissions from Sellafield have been more and more tightly controlled and I think the risks are minuscule.'

The lobsters Mr Scott sells, however, are as likely to come from Scotland or the United States as from the Cumbrian and Lancastrian coast.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform