HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc597-8W
Norman Baker

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent studies his Department has evaluated relating to the level of plutonium in the teeth of children(a) in the Sellafield area and (b) elsewhere in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. [129247]

Miss Melanie Johnson

The Department of Health funded studies on the contamination of the population of the United Kingdom by environmental plutonium and other radionuclides in the late 1990s.

The samples chosen for analysis were either teeth, removed for orthodontic purposes, or 24 hour urine samples. Teeth, mostly intact first pre-molars, were collected by district health authorities, batched into samples of 50 teeth. then analysed for plutonium-239 + 240 by alpha-spectrometry. Additional single teeth were analysed for their total alpha-activity by alpha-track counting with Tastrak 'R' and additional batches were analysed for radiostrontium. The results showed that the average concentrations of total alpha-emitters and radiostrontium were approximately three orders of magnitude greater than the equivalent concentrations of plutonium isotopes. Analysis indicated that the concentrations of plutonium, but not strontium-90 or total alpha-emitters decreased with increasing distance from the west Cumbrian coast and its Sellafield nuclear fuel reprocessing plant—suggesting that this plant is a source of plutonium contamination in the wider population of the British Isles. Nevertheless, the measured average absolute concentrations of plutonium-239 + 240 were so low that they are considered to present an insignificant radiological hazard. Moreover, additional analyses showed that the concentrations of other "high toxicity", natural alpha-emitting radionuclides (radium, thorium and uranium) were much higher than the levels of plutonium.