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Windscale (Discharges)

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the level of increase in the discharge of plutonium-241 from the Windscale pipeline into the sea; what is the current build-up of americum-241 in the sea as a result of these discharges; what steps he is taking to end these discharges; when he expects them to end; if he is satisfied that these discharges and the quantities of argon-41 released into the atmosphere pose no danger to health; if he will set new limits for plutonium-241 to decrease the build-up of subsequent americum-241; and if he will make a statement.

In 1978 47,928 curies of plutonium-241 was discharged from the Windscale pipeline compared with 26,517 curies in 1977 and 35,048 in 1976. After about 100 years, the 1978 discharges of this isotope will have decayed to about 1,400 curies of americum-241. The current build-up of americum-241 from the 1978 discharge is about 100 curies.We do not propose to require British Nuclear Fuel Ltd. to end these discharges. They are environmentally of low significance and they are essential to the continued operation of the Windscale reprocessing plant. BNFL is, however, designing new plant to reduce substantially the discharges to sea of the more radiologically significant isotopes such as caesium and strontium. When this new plant is operational we shall, in conjunction with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, issue a revised authorisation reflecting these reductions and also setting a specific limit for plutonium-241, recognising the fact that it decays to americum-241.We are satisfied that neither the liquid nor the atmospheric discharges of radioactivity from Windscale endanger public health.