Sellafield discharges `have more impact than Chernobyl'

Radioactive discharges from a British nuclear processing plant are having a bigger impact on the Arctic than the Chernobyl disaster, it was claimed today. Data compiled by Canadian researchers showed that a plume of radioactive seawater from the Sellafield plant in Cumbria - said to be "between two and three times" the contamination from Chernobyl - had reached northern Canada at a depth of 200 metres, New Scientist magazine reported.

Radioactivity in the plume was "an order of magnitude greater than the background level from nuclear weapons fallout", according to Mike Bewers of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He led scientists aboard the research ship CSS Henry Larson who were said to have made the discovery after taking seawater samples in 1995.The data is due to be revealed next month at an international conference on radioactivity in the Arctic in Tromso, Norway, said New Scientist.

A BNFL spokesman said the amount of radioactivity in the sea did not have a harmful effect. "A recent report from the independent Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland says that radioactivity levels in the Irish Sea are falling and now so low as to be `dwarfed' by naturally occurring radioactivity," he said. "Nor is there anything new about these discharges being detected further afield ... What is important is that such levels do not pose a health or environmental risk."

He added that the figures in the article related to the peak levels of the mid-1970s, but investment at Sellafield had reduced radioactive discharges from the site to 1 per cent of their peak.

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