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Dounreay Announces Plans To Begin Seabed Clean-up Trials

22nd November 2006

UKAEA has announced plans to undertake trials of remotely operated technology that could be used to remove substantial numbers of particles from the seabed at Dounreay.

A notice placed in the Official Journal of the European Union seeks expressions of interest from companies capable of detecting and removing fragments of irradiated nuclear fuel known to be buried in the offshore sediment near the site's old effluent discharge outlet.

In recent years, divers have spent approximately 1500 hours mapping 500,000 square metres of seabed and recovered 929 particles in the process. Companies with feasible technology will be invited to demonstrate their capability off Dounreay next summer to see if the area of seabed where the largest and most hazardous particles are thought to reside could be remediated without the occupational risks associated with continued diving.

The announcement comes after a panel of experts, tasked with short-listing options for public consultation on the particles legacy, concluded that some form of particle retrieval from the seabed should feature in all the options.

Successful retrieval might reduce the number of particles that could be transported onto local beaches in future although it is recognised that disturbance of the seabed may lead to a short term increase in the numbers of particles that come ashore on the Dounreay foreshore and on the beach at Sandside. It was also recognised by the panel that recovery of every particle will not be practicable.

Dounreay's acting director Simon Middlemas said: "It has taken several years of painstaking research, 10 million of investment, valuable expert guidance from bodies such as the Dounreay Particles Advisory Group and important input and assistance from Sandside Estate to reach this milestone.

"I am pleased to announce that we will shortly begin testing particle retrieval systems in the sea off Dounreay, because clean-up of the seabed is an important feature of dealing with the environmental contamination that has arisen as a result of past practices on the Dounreay site."

UKAEA remains committed to improving the detection of particles arriving from the sea onto Sandside Beach, where 74 have been found, and the monitoring of local beaches in the vicinity of the clean-up.

Following an international tendering exercise and series of trials, four systems have been short-listed for the award of a new monitoring contract next year and the present Groundhog system is being upgraded through innovation in its electronics. Both developments are expected to result in increased particle detection capabilities on local beaches, subject to access.

Phil Cartwright, UKAEA's contaminated land and particles remediation project manager, said: "By working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, independent experts and the owner of Sandside, we have been able to improve our knowledge of the particles and have progressively increased our detection capabilities.

"The DPAG report published today has considered the significant monitoring data and the outcome of studies undertaken up to February 2006. It provides a comprehensive assessment of the particles issue based on the knowledge available.

"DPAG makes a number of important recommendations about further improvements, including increased monitoring coverage of the beach at Sandside to obtain more data about particle arrival rates, and I welcome this. We will now sit down with SEPA and the owner of Sandside to take these recommendations forward.

"The report makes a very important contribution to the process now underway to identify the Best Practicable Environmental Option and we will continue to provide information to DPAG as our knowledge increases."

 

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