Uranium dust delays clean-up

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The Independent Online
Dust from barrels of uranium dumped on a farm used as a playground by children is toxic and could cause breathing difficulties, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Authority said yesterday.

Removal of two drums containing very low-level radioactive material - uranium 238 - was delayed yesterday when experts from the authority realised the containers were in a worse state than initially thought.

"It's not just a matter of picking them up, putting them on a lorry and driving them away," the authority spokesman said yesterday. "A team was inspecting the site today and found it was not such an easy job as was expected.The risk is not from radioactivity but from uranium dust which is toxic and could cause breathing difficulties if inhaled. If it was lumps of metal it could be picked up in a gloved hand, but it is metal filings and some of the barrels have rusted through."

Police sealed off part of Poplar farm, at Chelveston, Northamptonshire, last Friday when the waste was discovered and warned people could be contaminated if they visited the area.

A spokesman for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution, which is paying for the clean-up, said children from a neighbouring US Air Force base used the spot as a "sort of adventure playground". It is thought the uranium, used as ballast and to balance aircraft wing-tips, could have been lying unnoticed since May.

The alarm was raised after the farm owner sold three drums of the waste to a local scrap metal merchant who then sold them to the Sheffield metal processing company ELG Haniels, whose automatic alarm sounded as the radioactive material was driven throughthe gates.

Police said that removal of the barrels would begin at 11am today. The road on either side of the farm would be closed for 300 metres in each direction and no one would be allowed into the area.

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