British Nuclear Fuels last night admitted it was having to treat hundreds of radioactive pigeons slaughtered around its Sellafield plant as low-level nuclear waste, writes Nicholas Schoon.
The state-owned company is carrying out a mass cull of the birds after they were found to be contaminated. They are trapped in cages and their necks are wrung before the corpses are taken to the nearby low-level radioactive waste dump at Drigg, Cumbria. Greenpeace had Sellafield pigeons analysed by an independent French radiation laboratory and yesterday published the laboratory's report, which said the feathers had caesium-137 contamination levels of up to 403,000 bequerels per kilogramme.
BNFL said it was not surprised at the finding and that it did mean the pigeons should be treated as nuclear waste. Last month the Ministry of Agriculture told people not to handle or eat pigeons from within a 10- mile radius of Sellafield.
BNFL has set out to cull the local flock of some 700, and has dispatched 500 so far. It says the pigeons are picking up contamination from some of the site's older buildings, where they roost in sheltered, dry roof spaces. Sellafield's main task is to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from power stations, and store radioactive waste.
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