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Radiation levels in the Hurd Deep are regularly monitored

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Friday 26 April 2013

Radioactive waste in the Hurd Deep off Alderney do not pose a significant threat for the Channel Islands. Samples have been taken from the marine environment around the Hurd Deep since the mid-1960s and there is robust and ongoing evidence to demonstrate that these deposits are not presenting risk to human health or the environment.

The Office of Environmental Health and Pollution Regulation currently coordinate a comprehensive radiological monitoring programme which includes monitoring of alpha, beta and gamma radiation levels in the atmosphere, food chain and the marine environment.

Fish, shellfish, sea water, sea weed and sediment (sand) samples are taken on an annual basis from around Guernsey and Alderney. This monitoring programme is coordinated via the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the Environment Agency (EA) and the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and the programme is varied depending upon any trends that present or in the event of issues or readings of note.

There are three main sources of artificial radionuclides that could impact on the marine environment of the Channel Islands;

i) Authorised (and regulated) discharges from the French reprocessing plant at la Hague

ii) Authorised (and regulated) discharges from the French nuclear power station at Flamanville

iii) Releases from historical disposals of radioactive waste in the Hurd Deep.

The disposal of packaged radioactive wastes at the eastern end of the Hurd Deep occurred on fourteen occasions between 1950 and 1963. The disposals were authorised by the UK Government. The waste consisted of small amounts of radioactive material originating from various laboratory processes. The waste was packaged in order to facilitate high levels of dispersion of low levels of radiation. Based upon the type of material that was disposed of in this area and the long-standing historical monitoring data, the breaching of a barrel (or a number of barrels) would be unlikely to have a detrimental impact on the marine environment or human health.

The Hurd deep lies outside of Guernsey's current territorial waters and clearance of this material would be the primary responsibility of Her Majesty's Government.

As the States of Guernsey continue to live with the legacy of this waste material, the most proportionate response is to continue to monitor the comprehensive array of environmental and animal indicators and to use this data to inform the States' response.

The samples that are collected around Guernsey and Alderney (including around the site in question) are sent to accredited UK laboratories for analysis and the results across the UK are published annually in the Radioactivity in Food and the Environment (RIFE) report. The RIFE report for 2011 (as published in 2012) concluded that:

"the results of environmental monitoring of this area [Hurd Deep] ... confirm that the radiological impact of these disposals was insignificant".

The report estimated that the level of impact on people that consumed "large amounts" of fish and shellfish from this area was 0.5% of the dose limit for human exposure. The report also stated that the effect of French nuclear facilities on marine indicators was less than 1% of the target limit.

The States of Guernsey acknowledges the potential impact of radiation on islanders and this is reflected in the comprehensive monitoring programme that exists. In the event of any issue that poses a risk to human health or the environment, proportionate reactive measures would be taken and the public would by duly notified.

Further information on the RIFE Reports is available from: http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/rife2011.pdf

-ENDS-

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