Fall-out over nuclear report

Guernsey politician claims £35,000 NRPB document is ‘a quite grotesque exercise’

The National Radiological Protection Board has run into a storm over a report it produced recently on the risks that French nuclear power plants pose to the Channel Island of Guernsey.

Representatives of the island’s government, the States of Guernsey, are furious that the NRPB has charged them £35,000 for a document that addresses only the most minor of nuclear incidents.

‘They haven’t even commented on a whole range of possibilities,’ said Roland Ogier, one of the 55 members of the assembly. ‘I find it a quite grotesque exercise on their part.’

The Guernsey government was due to debate the report and its implications on 24 September, but has instead invited the NRPB to discuss it at a public meeting. ‘I think the alternative would have been to tell them to take it back and write it again,’ said Ogier.

John Large, independent nuclear consultant, said the report assumed the maximum release of radioactive material from Cogema’s reprocessing plant at Cap le Hague would be 35.5 x 1010 bequerrels, which translated into about 0.1 of a cubic centimeter of high level waste.

Large said this figure was a minute fraction of the volume of radioactive material that would be involved in the operations at Cap le Hague – the reprocessing plant handled 17 tonnes of irradiated nuclear fuel at a time and the vitrification plant 600kg of high level waste.

One tonne of spent uranium fuel would contain 21.83 x 1015bq – 60,000 times more than the maximum release considered by the report, he said.

The NRPB stands by the study commissioned by the island in late 1995 to assess radiation doses and risks to Guernsey inhabitants from Cap le Hague and the French nuclear power stations at Flammanville.

Dr Michael Clark, the board’s head of communications, said his organisation was not qualified to determine how much radioactivity could be released in incidents, so used figures provided by Cogema and Electricite de France.

‘Our expertise is in modelling what goes into the environment and how it comes back to man. We don’t provide the source terms,’ he said.

‘We didn’t envisage a Chernobyl-type accident at Cap le Hague.’

Clark said the report stated that a full assessment of the accidental risks had not been possible because the necessary information was not available, but that was a matter for Guernsey to ask Cogema and EdF.