Radioactive Waste

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 28th June 2019.

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Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment and Rural Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales)

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the environmental effects of the dumping of radioactive waste in Hurd Deep and Atlantic Deep as detailed in the Ministry of Defence archived document entitled British Isles Explosive Dumping Grounds.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Dumping of radioactive waste (before being banned under the London Convention of 1972 for highly contaminated and in 1993 for low contaminated waste) was subject to approval by the MAFF Approval Committee, whose procedures included careful checks on the containment and transport of the waste. Both the Hurd Deep and Atlantic Deep sites have been subject to monitoring.

Hurd Deep:

From 1946 to 1993, the UK disposed of amounts of both civilian and radioactive waste at sea, in accordance with national policy and legislation, and with later international agreements regulating such disposals. These disposals were seen at the time as routine and uncontroversial.

The total estimated activities in curies (TBq) for these dumpings were: Alpha activity, 400 curies (14.8 TBq); Beta-Gamma activity, 1,200 curies (44.4 TBq). The very low active waste (mainly sludges) dumped into the Hurd Deep was packed in approved light metal drums to permit rapid dispersion of the contents. The UK regularly monitors the Channel Island States and report the results in the annually produced RIFE (Radioactivity in Food and the Environment) report series. These reports can be found here:

In addition, Cefas and the Food Standards Agency have jointly published a peer reviewed paper (MARINE RADIOACTIVITY IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS, 1990 – 2009) which looked further at time trends over around 20 years. UK monitoring shows that there is no evidence for significant releases of radioactivity from the Hurd Deep site and the effects of discharges from local sources have continued to be of negligible radiological significance.

North Atlantic Dump site:

The Nuclear Energy Agency’s (NEA) surveillance of the North-East Atlantic dump site used by OECD/NEA member countries (including the UK) started in 1977 and ended in 1995. In 1985, the OECD/NEA Co-ordinated Research and Environmental Surveillance Programme (CRESP) delivered a report on the dump site. The report concluded that the North-East Atlantic dump site posed negligible human radiological risk although the report noted that in the absence of baseline data on the benthic biology, it was difficult to draw firm conclusions about the environmental impacts. A new report on the dump site conducted by CRESP in 1996 reached the same conclusions.

A summary of the “Historic Dumping of Low-Level Radioactive Waste in the North-East Atlantic” was recently compiled by the Radioactive Substances Committee of OSPAR. OSPAR’s document can be found here:

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