Western Daily Press, 01 November 2005

An inquiry has been launched into a claim that high radiation levels were found near Hinkley Point nuclear site, the Western Daily Press can reveal today. The Geiger counter readings were taken at Kilve Beach, on the Bristol Channel, by a man whose two dogs died from stomach cancer after regularly being walked in the area.

Yesterday, the Environment Agency confirmed it is investigating the claim and checking whether any discharges may have come from the atomic site, though it currently has "no evidence to suppose so". The nuclear complex near Bridgwater is home to the decommissioned Hinkley A nuclear power station and the still-functioning Hinkley B plant.

Operators at the sites said last night all readings from their carefully-monitored works were well within safe limits and they were co-operating with the investigation. Both British Nuclear Group, which is responsible for Hinkley A, and British Energy, which runs Hinkley B, yesterday said monitoring had picked up no unusual readings.

The unnamed pet owner, who has an engineering background, decided to take a Geiger counter to Kilve on August 20 after his pets died and allegedly discovered "elevated" radiation levels. Although he has chosen not to speak publicly about it, the man reported his findings to the Environment Agency, which invited him to revisit the site in mid-September with its contractors, who regularly monitor the beach. Although the dog owner pointed out the areas where he had taken his own counter checks, neither he nor the contractors could reproduce his findings.

"He has concluded that the readings are due to loose material rather than fixed natural activity in the rocks, " said the Environment Agency yesterday in a statement. "We are looking to see if there is any potential for the phenomenon reported by the member of the public to be associated with discharges of radioactive liquid effluent from the Hinkley Point nuclear sites near to Kilve beach.

"At this time we have no evidence to suppose so but are doing extra environmental monitoring in the area to check. We will also be taking extra samples of the liquid effluents discharged from the nuclear sites to look for anything unusual. We are also checking with the operators of the Hinkley Point sites that the plant that they have in place to minimise environmental impacts from liquid discharges is operating as it should."

According to Jim Duffy, of campaign group Stop Hinkley, the man discovered a 20 sq metres area where the radiation levels were 40 to 50 times higher than would be normally expected. Compared with a background radiation level of two to four "clicks" a second on the counter, there were between 80 and 100 clicks, said Mr Duffy. He said the unidentified pet owner had previous expertise working with Geiger counters and had a military background, including working on submarines.

The man has loaned one of his three radiation-check instruments to antinuclear campaigner Mr Duffy, who lives nearby and will be making further visits to the site to check levels. Mr Duffy believes the radiation may have been lower on the second occasion because the contaminating material was washed away during the weeks between site visits. "If there is radiation washing up on any of the local beaches then it is going to contaminate people using it, " he said.

"Dogs are probably going to be the first to be affected - they scratch and run about, and drink water. Pet owners might be concerned about it, but children use the beach as well. In the summertime Kilve beach is a very popular beach."

"They are going to be playing football and generally mucking about." He said radioactive particles could be dangerous if breathed in or ingested, and criticised the Environment Agency for not checking out the readings more quickly after they were reported. But the agency yesterday denied it had been sluggish to respond and said it had taken time to arrange a date for both parties to revisit Kilve.

The radiation claims were discussed at a recent meeting of Hinkley's Site Stakeholder Group, which allows residents, councillors and groups such as Stop Hinkley to meet with nuclear energy chiefs and watchdogs. Group chairman Mike Short, who lives in Fiddington, near Hinkley, said stakeholders "took reassurance" from the actions of the Environment Agency and the stations, and added that the matter should not be sensationalised.

A spokesman for British Nuclear Group said last night: "All the discharges from Hinkley Point A, which is of course a decommissioned site, are monitored daily and are well within the legal and safe limit set down by the regulator. "We have co-operated fully with the Environment Agency since the issue was raised and they have been to the site to inspect our liquid effluent procedures and controls, and have found nothing untoward." John McNamara, media relations manager at British Energy, said: "Monitoring of the environment around the station is done on a regular basis by both the station and its regulators - the Environment Agency, Food Standards Agency and Health Protection Agency - to ensure we continue to meet our high standards of environmental protection."

Debate on safety still rages after 40 years

A quiet corner of shoreline on the Bristol Channel changed into one of the West's biggest electricity production points when Hinkley Point was selected to go nuclear. The original two Magnox reactors, now known as Hinkley A, opened in 1965 and formed one of the UK's first atomic power stations. It was joined in 1976 by a twin advanced gas-cooled reactor, now known as Hinkley B.

Residents have accused the nuclear power station of being responsible for clusters of childhood leukaemia and high rates of breast cancer in the area. A 2001 survey by outspoken green campaigner Dr Chris Busby caused controversy when it claimed there was a significant leukaemia cluster among children living near Oldbury Power Station on the banks of the Severn.

That study said children aged under four in Chepstow were 11 times more likely to get leukaemia than the national average. It also said there was evidence of excess cervix and kidney cancers.

The suggestion the power station is unsafe has been repeatedly dismissed by official reports. In June, the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (Comare) gave nuclear power the all-clear after a study of childhood cancers, but local campaigners dismissed it as a whitewash.

This year Dr Busby, who works closely with Stop Hinkley campaign group, said there were 439 cancer cases in the Somerset town over the 13year period till 2002, compared with an expected 364. Stop Hinkley believes if the figures were broken down into individual wards for Burnham then there would be an even more noticeable cancer cluster.

This is strongly refuted by British Energy, which runs Hinkley B power station. The company denies there is a link to the disease and says the station is safe.


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Kilve beach radiation
Update May 2006

The Environment Agency has given Hinkley Point the all-clear after the discovery of high levels of radiation on Kilve beach last year.

But they have stopped certain activities at Hinkley 'A' cooling ponds 'as a precaution'. The EA claimed their five weeks delay in monitoring the beach was spent arranging a suitable time to meet with the man who found the hot-spot, which he strenuously denies.