Friday, August 21, 2009
The BBC warns
A radioactive particle and two shovels worth of radioactive waste have been found in grazing land near a nuclear power site for the first time.This is based on SEPA's press release which says
The field next to Dounreay on the Caithness coast has been earmarked for a low-level waste dump.
"The Scottish Environment Protection Agency received notification from DSRL, as per normal practice, of the detection and recovery of a fuel fragment and two shovels worth of radioactive waste. These were detected while DSRL was monitoring the footprint of the proposed new low level waste facility. The active material has been removed. This is the first known find of such a fragment in this particular area. Approximately one third of the area of the new facility has been monitored to date. The fuel fragment was recovered some 240m inland from the sea cliffs and the two shovels worth of radioactive waste some 300m inland of the sea cliffs, both in rough ground. The fragment was recovered at 5-10 cm depth.As normal in such things, at Dounreay & elsewhere, there is no mention, even in SEPA's press release, of exactly how much radiation this "fuel fragment" gives off. However it seems the local John O'Groats Journal & Caithness Courier have been more diligent than the BBC & got them to provide a figure. "It was found to have an activity of 58,000 becquerels" Now 58,000 sounds like a pretty scary number so are SEPA involved in some conspiracy to downplay this as minor. Well no. The Becquerel is not as fearsome a unit as you might be meant to think.
"This fuel fragment would be classified as "minor" according to the DPAG categorisation and does not present a significant hazard to the public.
One Bq is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second...To the more pedantic theoretical physicist absolutely anything is radioactive but in practical terms this is not so. So we find that this radioactive "fuel" is 14 times as radioactive as the non-radioactive potassium in 1 human body (or to be fair 1/130,000,000,000,000,000,000 of Hiroshima). Bearing in mind that the human body is overwhelmingly made up of stuff other than potassium it looks like this "fuel" is less radioactive than a single one of the workers looking for it, though also smaller. Quite obviously, like the stuff they found at Dalgety Bay, we are dealing with purely natural radioactives once again.
For example, natural potassium (40K) in a typical human body produces 4,000 disintegrations per second (i.e., 4 kBq of activity). The nuclear explosion in Hiroshima (14 kT) is estimated to have produced 8×10^24 Bq.
As regards SEPA's allegation that this is a "fuel fragment" - this can only be another lie. To quote Steuart's guest article previously
I do not see how anyone could determine that a particular emission came from a natural radionuclide rather than an artificial one. ...
A layer of soil 30 cm deep and 1.6 km square would contain on average 1 g of radium (depends on locality, moisture content and the presence of buildings and roads. It would also contain ~3 tonnes of uranium and 6 tonnes of thorium. The Ra concentration is about one part in a trillion
This must, in turn, make all their previous claims, widely reported but also without figures, about the various radioactive particles found on Dounreay beach, very questionable.
Incidentally, since this search was being done of empty land which had not been used for radiation purposes but was intended to be in the future it is obvious none of this expensive searching was any more necessary than for any other piece of agricultural land (one could even argue less necessary since it wouldn't even be used for growing food). This is a sign of the lengths government empire builders go to artificially ramp up the cost of nuclear & decommissioning. Imagine how expensive farming would be if the same rules applied.
One good thing about this is that though it has been reported by the very local paper & the BBC, who can be relied on to push any eco scare stories, it has got little further.
Ambulatory low level radioactive waste looking for the stationery sort.
I remember reading about a theft that occurred in one of the former Soviet Union's subject states, where a piece of radioactive material was stolen from a research institute. The Thief who stole the material was found dead, bleeding from every hole in his body, while the stolen goods sat in the passenger seat of his car a few feet away from him.