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Radioactivity in the Isle of Man: No cause for alarm

Sellafield, as seen from Windy Corner

Sellafield, as seen from Windy Corner

Scientists have given the Isle of Man a clean bill of health over radiactivity levels.

New studies show that levels in Manx foodstuffs and at beaches and harbours are well within acceptable limits and give no cause for alarm.

The conclusion of the Isle of Man government laboratory’s annual radioactivity monitoring report for 2013 was published today (Tuesday).

The laboratory – part of the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture – conducts routine monitoring of seafood, marine sediments and seaweed to assess the impact of environmental contamination by radioactive material, in particular waste discharges from the Cumbrian nuclear waste reprocessing plant Sellafield, which lies 32 miles from the Isle of Man.

Sellafield is permitted to discharge low levels of radioactivity both to the air and sea.

Liquid waste discharges are much more extensive than gaseous discharges and of greater radiological significance, due to the potential human exposure via seafood.

The main seaborne pollutants linked to Sellafield are the radioactive isotopes Caesium-137 and Technetium-99. The laboratory has equipment that can measure these isotopes down to extremely low levels.

‘Past and present day discharges result in traces of radioactivity being found in fish and shellfish, but at levels that are barely detectable,’ said Dr Paul McKenna, senior scientist at the laboratory.

‘Our analysis of seafood samples throughout 2013 found only trace amounts, which were well below safe limits for human consumption.’

The laboratory also monitors background radiation in harbour sediments and on beaches. Levels were found to be consistently low and therefore of no concern to people using them, Dr McKenna said.

Traces of Sellafield radioactivity can be found in seaweed, but the levels are far too low to be a hazard to people handling it.

The amount of Technetium-99 absorbed by seaweed is about 1/20th of the concentration found a decade ago.

During 2013, routine tests were performed on a wide range of other locally-produced foods including milk, meat and vegetables – with nothing of significance detected in any of the samples.

The 2013 monitoring results are reassuring, the evidence from the annual testing of seafood and environmental materials confirming that the Isle of Man does not have a contamination problem due to Sellafield, said Dr McKenna.

The government laboratory’s monitoring will continue in order to detect and quantify any radioactive contamination that may arise from Sellafield, or any other source, whether through licenced discharges or otherwise, both for public reassurance and to allow action to be taken should unacceptable contamination occur.

Pollution from the nuclear industry accounts for less than 1 per cent of the Manx population’s annual radiation exposure, most (around 85 per cent) being from natural environmental sources. Medical exposure is the biggest man-made contributor to the total annual dose.

The 2013 and previous reports can be found at www.gov.im/radioactivity

 
 
 

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