§ Dr. Cunningham
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will now publish further information on the extent of contamination of beaches in west Cumbria.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
The National Radiological Protection Board has today published a further assessment of survey results, prepared for my Department, and I have placed copies in the Library.
The report contains detailed information on the frequency and distribution of contaminated material found and removed by BNFL monitoring teams and by inspectors from my Department during the period from December 5 to February 13. An apparent decline in frequency was not sustained, and in the last week of that period a number of pieces of bitumen were found. The radiation dose rates from the latter pieces are similar to those from the other material found since November. I am informed that, in the period since February 13, the frequency of discoveries of bitumen has also shown a decline.
BNFL has identified as one possible source for the bitumen one of the sea pipelines, which was used just prior to the appearance of the bitumen. At the request of the radiochemical inspectorate of my Department, tests are being carried out on this pipeline. Bitumen is also used widely on the site, from which the surface water drains to the sea. The measures taken by BNFL since the November incident include improvements in the arrangements for flitering out solid material and retaining it on site.
Consistently with its earlier report, NRBP concluded that the only situations of concern are those involving the chance of prolonged handling by a member of the public of contaminated debris. It is to avoid these situations that the public have been advised to avoid unnecessary use of the beaches. The board has provided some amplification of its previously recommended criterion for the withdrawal of this advice, and this will be taken into account at the appropriate time. The local authorities and the health authorities will also be consulted.
I am keeping the situation closely under review in conjunction with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We are satisfied that everything necessary is being done to gather the information that will enable us to take a safe and early decision about withdrawal of the advice, to avoid unnecessary use of the beaches.