Fears are growing that UK rail workers and the public could have been exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity over the past 13 years, following the disclosure that spent fuel flasks from German nuclear power plants were found to have contamination levels of up to 3,000 times the permitted limit.
British Nuclear Fuels, which brings spent fuel from continental Europe into the UK for reprocessing at Sellafield, insisted that ‘no spent fuel flasks from German customers have ever arrived in the UK with similarly high levels of contamination’. But it admitted that it had only carried out rigorous checks for the last three years.
The French nuclear inspectorate DSIN shocked the German government last week by revealing that flasks sent to France’s reprocessing plant at Le Hague from Germany had external levels of contamination of up to 3,000 times the permitted limit of 4 becquerels/cm2.
DSIN also claimed that over a quarter of the flasks shipped to Le Hague from Germany and other European countries since 1985 had not been cleaned properly.
The Bonn government responded by banning all internal and external shipments of flasks. There was also an emergency debate on the issue in the German Parliament this week.
While the DSIN report is said to relate solely to shipments to Le Hague, the high proportion of contaminated containers discovered has prompted fears that similarly radioactive flasks were shipped to the UK in the past.
The Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions, which is responsible for the safety of nuclear transport in the UK, would not comment at this stage. ‘We are at the moment trying to determine what the facts are,’ said a spokesman.